MONROVIA, Montserrado – Three young women entrepreneurs emerged as winners of SMART Liberia’s GET program’s inaugural Ideas Festival on Saturday, September 10.
The program was sponsored by the US$700 million Liberian-owned company, Sundial Brands. Sharon Jallah, Jessie Tarpeh and Satta Wahab walked away with cash prizes of US$2,500, US$1,500 and US$1,000, respectively.
The Girls Entrepreneurship and Tech Program is designed to empower and encourage entrepreneurship and technology among girls and young women in secondary school to university and tertiary institutions in Liberia to promote innovation and fight extreme poverty in our communities.
The Ideas Festival was the culmination of two months of intensive entrepreneurship training, business plan development exercise, mentorship, and a pitching competition. In August, SMART Liberia welcomed a class of 20 young women for a three-day training in Entrepreneurship.
Following the training, the GET Fellows participated in a business/elevator pitch contest to showcase their talent to a panel of entrepreneurs that included Barkue Tubman-Zawolo (Founder and CEO of MBL International and Peace Café), Mahmud Johnson (Founder and CEO of J-Palm) and Jefferson Krua (Co-Founder of The Bush Chicken).
The participants left the competition with extensive feedback on how to improve their businesses. Over the months, they have worked with SMART Liberia to incorporate those feedback into their business plans and strategies.
The winner, Sharon Jallah, will start a beauty salon in the Mount Barclay community outside of Monrovia, where many young girls and women travel long distances to make themselves look beautiful and confident.
In tears, Jallah said she could not believe she had won. “We were 20 in this race. Most of my friends thought this wasn’t real,” she said. “But I was determined to move on because this has been my life-long dream, and I am grateful to SMART Liberia and Sundial Brands for making this dream come true.”
The first runner-up, Jessie Tarpeh has been baking and selling short and corn bread for eight months out of a transparent white bucket in the slum community of West point.
Tarpeh’s US$1,500 will allow her to grow her business. “I want to start a pastries shop to provide healthy and affordable meals to the residents of West Point,” she said.
Satta Wahab and Letitia Gibson started Naz Naturals two months ago to produce a hair moisturizer made from shea butter. The product is intended to provide Liberian girls with more options for maintaining and styling their natural hair.
“We are not just telling young girls to feel beautiful but we have created a solution to help them be beautiful,” Wahab said.
They produced and sold their first 100 cups in under two months. Naz Naturals’ US$1,000 award will help them improve their marketing and distribution efforts of 500 more products, soon to hit the Liberian market in a few days.
Each business was judged on the ability to make profit, feasibility, and the commitment of the entrepreneurs. Other businesses presented at the Ideas Festival included a book store, a microfinance loan scheme for market women, and a computer center for disadvantaged youth.
With the support from Sundial Brands and other partners, in five years, SMART Liberia’s goal is to help empower 50 girls and women to start or grow their businesses and lift their communities out of poverty.
Featured photo by SMART Liberia