These days it seems R40 can’t get you far, but maybe that’s because you’re not thinking outside the box like Cape Town entrepreneur Lufefe “Spinach King” Nomjana.
In 2012, Nomjana was volunteering at a community garden with a large quantity of spinach, and flat out broke with only R40 in his pocket, according to How We Made It In Africa.
But his ingenuity kicked in when he recognized an opportunity to make and sell spinach bread in his township of Khayelitsha.
After doing research on recipes, which revealed spinach bread is nutritious and delicious, Nomjana cut a deal with his neighbor to allow him to use her oven to bake his first loaf.
With no luck pitching his idea to investors, Nomjana decided to start his bakery Espinaca Innovations, specializing in spinach-based baked goods, on his own.
“Back then it was not about profits. I was building the brand, and actually educating people about [healthy eating],” he tells How We Made It In Africa.
Nomjana was barely in his 20s when he began selling clothing door-to-door. But, although he was hard-working and driven, he realised he wasn’t as financially savvy as he needed to be to run a business.
“Although I had the ambition and discipline to be self-employed, things weren’t going well,” he says. “I didn’t know enough about stock control, cash flow and so on.”
It was on a five-month course at the Raymond Ackerman Academy (of Entrepreneurial Development) that Nomjana realised that he could build a business while helping people in his community. He was bothered by the fact that people around him didn’t have access to healthy alternatives by way of convenient food and that many were unaware of how harmful poor dietary choices could be.
“I started thinking about how I could build a business and also help people. Also, I needed to establish something with very little money — R40, in fact. That’s when I began thinking spinach thoughts,” says the 28-year-old. “Spinach grows easily almost everywhere. It’s one of the most nutrient-rich vegetables with many healthy side effects. So I planted spinach and began experimenting with recipes.”
“My vision was to produce something that would convince people in my neighbourhood that healthy eating could be as affordable and tasty — and convenient — as the fast food they are used to.”
Since Nomjana began baking four loaves every night, Espinaca Innovations’ capacity has grown considerably. In 2014, the 28-year-old entrepreneur won a SAB Foundation’s Social Innovation Award, which included a pay-out of R90,000 that he combined with his savings to buy baking equipment and establish a storefront bakery, built out of a renovated shipping container.
Fast forward to today, Espinaca Innovations produces 500 loaves from spinach sourced from local farmers in addition to muffins and sandwiches. And it has a bike delivery service.
This month, the “Spinach King” has launched a second café and bakery in Khayelisha Mall, and is on-track to open a new factory in August with plans to expand into low-carb “banting bread,” a bread alternative popular in Cape Town.
Nomjana says his story is evidence that entrepreneurs do not need huge amounts of capital to start a business. He advises other aspiring businesspeople to first identify the resources they have at their disposal and then figure out how to use them.
“Life is about having something to give in order for you to receive. And what is it that you have? You’ve got the brains, the intellectual capital and that will actually open many doors for you. So the first capital that you need, more than money, is intellectual capital.”
Moral of the story: Believe in yourself because anything is possible, even with only R40 in your pocket.
Watch the incredible video below: