“Never give up on yourself or your dreams because only you can make them a reality.”
Valde Ndapwilwa Akumanga Leonard is a startup entrepreneur and the founder of VNA Native Foods. He was born in Outapi and grew up in Aus, a small rural community in southern Namibia, where his family is also from & currently lives. Valde attended all his junior grades in Aus, then completed his secondary grades in Keetmanshoop at P.K De Villiers Secondary School. He then went on to graduate as a Para Veterinarian / Vet Nurse through the University of Namibia, after obtaining his qualification in 2016.
“After finishing university, I worked as a Vet Nurse for 1 year and 8 months at the Windhoek Animal Hospital as well as at a charity organization. At the end of my tertiary career going into my work as a vet nurse, I started to develop a business concept based on the idea of adding value to indigenous Namibian and African food such as spinach, mopani worms and wild fruits.”
It was around this time that the young Valde put his best foot forward for the Development Bank of Namibia’s Innovation Award – aimed at rewarding personalities with funding for their creative & innovative ideas that have personal & national developmental impact. Winning the 2018 DBN Innovation Award, as well as the N$1 Million prize, was the necessary push that Valde needed to start with VNA Native Foods.
Tell us about VNA Native Foods, the products & services you offer and the team behind the startup, if any.
“VNA Native Foods is a Namibian company which I founded with the sole purpose of adding value to indigenous Namibian and African food, thereby commercializing this food. It is named after my three names:
“V” for Valde, “n” for Ndapwilwa and “a” for Akumanga.
“Our company’s current products are powdered soups made from traditional African spinach well known in Oshiwambo as Omboga. The company has thus recently launched an Omboga vegetable soup that is available in 50g and 200g packets. These packets are available for sale in supermarkets around Windhoek.”
Valde Leonard is the main person behind the company, with a small team of about 4 team members.
What inspired you to start this business?
“My main inspiration for starting this company was my social & economic background. My mother sells traditional brews in Aus and my father has worked as a general worker at TransNamib his whole life. I thus came from a poor background but my parents made sure to raise me and my siblings with discipline in order to achieve greatness. Despite my situation, I was determined to make a plan to get out of it. I came to despise poverty and that became my key driver amongst many other things.”
What do you enjoy most about being your own boss, and did you always know you wanted to delve into entrepreneurship?
“The flexibility that comes with being your own boss as well as being able to make my own decisions is what I enjoy the most.
The fact that my siblings and I were raised in a house where our parents are engaged in small-scale business activities, that includes the sale of traditional brews, exposed me to business at a young age. I thus had the idea in me, since the end of my high school career, that somewhere along the line I would become an entrepreneur.
What sets your products/services apart from those in the same industry?
“Our company’s products are unique in comparison to competing products because our product is made from local ingredients and is based on local flavors. The products are also very nutritious because of the Omboga/traditional spinach content.”
What challenges have you encountered on your entrepreneurial journey and how did you overcome some of them?
“I have faced many challenges along the way, and these include fund-raising, raw material acquisition as well as marketing and distribution. What was key in overcoming those challenges for me was prayer and faith in Jesus Christ. This will always remain a stronghold.”
What is your business philosophy?
“None, I was raised by parents who had a simple business principle – make a profit on everything you sell.”
What advice would you give to someone trying to break into this industry?
“My advice to other dreamers is to never give up on yourself or your dreams because only you can make them a reality; further, have faith in Jesus Christ.”
How important is networking as a growth component of any startup?
“Networking is very important because your startup can only stand to grow when you meet new people who can introduce you to other opportunities. Networking is also a good way of marketing one’s product and service.”
What role does your startup play in 1) contributing to society and 2) in nurturing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Namibia?
“VNA Native Foods contributes to society by providing employment directly and indirectly, and by providing our society with nutritious food.
The fact that the company fully took off during the COVID-19 period stands to inspire other entrepreneurs and to show that there is space for entrepreneurship in Namibia amidst all challenges.”
What recommendations would you make towards the improvement of the operations of startups?
“Namibia needs to introduce a one-stop facility that caters for the problems of startups; be it financial, marketing, operational or any other constraints. The startup community is lacking that support that would allow for its growth.”
Cell: 081 400 1834
Facebook: Valde Ndapwilwa Akumanga Leonard
Official VNA Native Foods pages coming soon.