“Do what you know” is the advice many startup entrepreneurs get when they’re trying to figure out the best business to start. Rhoi Wangila, the owner of NAVA Consulting Group, followed that route when starting her business. She explains, “Having worked in the nonprofit industry focusing on Africa for over 25 years, I knew that African middle-class consumers were yearning for quality ‘Made in America’ products and services.”
The Path to Success
“My driving force for starting NAVA Consulting Group was based on my firsthand knowledge that Africa is among the emerging engines of consumer growth with a lot of opportunities for U.S. small businesses,” says Wangila. “Since we have experience working in both the U.S. and Africa, we could use that knowledge to bridge the U.S.-Africa small-business divide, by promoting, facilitating and providing a platform for small businesses and entrepreneurs to expand into new markets, on both continents.”
Wangila’s business has two aims:
- Provide support to African small businesses and institutions
- Contract with U.S. institutions, businesses, and federal agencies — especially those that work in Africa
NAVA also sells several African products in the U.S., and creates products here for their African clients.
Wangila has faced several challenges on her entrepreneurial journey. She says, “In the beginning, I relied on personally travelling to Africa to provide the services or products, which was very expensive. After researching delivery alternatives, I teamed up with a small shipping company to deliver my products to my clients in Africa. That worked well and reduced regular travels and related expenses by least 70 percent, improving profit.”
However, then, Wangila continues, “came the bigger challenge of how I would get payment from Africa since I wasn’t traveling as much.” And, Wangila explains, “As an American, I could not open bank accounts in a foreign country without registering the company [which was too costly to do]. After a while I figured out a reliable and convenient payment plan through my U.S. business bank account. At the moment, my clients pay me in advance through the bank, then I ship products to them.”
How SCORE Helped
Wangila says, “I would not be in business today if I did not turn to SCORE. I needed reliable and affordable professional support, which SCORE is able to provide any time I need it.” Wangila’s primary mentor is Karen Williams, who, Wangila says, “has been a godsend.”
“[Karen] is very knowledgeable about government applications and provides great feedback to improve responses,” says Wangila.
Wangila has also worked with Fred Elam, who has advised her on her business structure and is a great “accounting resource.”
Wangila says, “I have a wonderful relationship with my mentors. SCORE is the best because they are consistent, very knowledgeable, committed to work with the business over the long term.”
She credits her mentors with teaching her about government contracting, including preparing her to meet with prime contractors as a sub-contractor and helping her write a capability statement. “Karen encouraged me a lot during the process of applying for a HUBZone certification,” says Wangila. “It took me two years to get my fear out of my mind, but she encouraged me to go for it and I am glad I listened. Fred gave me every detail on how to start contracting with the government. I was worried, I didn’t think I could do it, but both Fred and Karen helped me a lot.”
NAVA Consulting Today
Wangila says, “My joy comes when I get emails for repeat business from happy clients and referrals from current clients introducing their friends. Witnessing clients’ businesses grow from bottom up, is a thrill. African small businesses, especially those run by women, struggle to find quality U.S. products — the constraint being limited capital. NAVA has been able to work with very small startup businesses to meet their needs. It is satisfying to see the fledgling begin to learn to flourish.”
Wangila is proud of what she’s accomplished. She says, “I think NAVA represents the real journey of a small business that started with less than $1,000 with the mere determination to grow a bit at a time.”
NAVA Consulting is the 2018 SCORE Award winner for Outstanding Encore Entrepreneur, presented by Trend Micro.
For aspiring startups, the best advice comes from SCORE mentor Karen Williams, who says, “If you’re interested in starting a business, it doesn’t matter what your age is. Just find what you’re passionate about.”