When It All Adds Up – Neema Food


When it comes to ingenuity and resourcefulness, Black women are leading the charge. According to a recent Harvard Business Review, 17% of Black women are in the process of starting or running new businesses, compared to just 10% of white women, and 15% of white men.

This boom in Black entrepreneurship is making waves in the fundraising, as well. According to ProjectDiane, at the start of 2018, just 34 Black women had raised $1 million or more in outside investments for their businesses. However, by August 2020, more than 90 Black women had hit or exceeded that level. 

This month, Addition are proud to feature our client Rose Yombo-Djema, CEO and founder of African chilli paste company Neema Food. Drawing inspiration from a family recipe, Rose is filling a gap in UK supermarket representation for authentic African cuisine.

How did the idea for your business come about?

“I noticed a real lack of African food representation in UK supermarkets. I thought to myself, “I can solve this problem.”

@neemafood Instagram

It all started with a realisation there was a gap in the market. I was at the supermarket, and I noticed that while there was a big variety of Indian and Chinese food products, there was a real lack of representation when it came to African foods. I was curious, so went to the British Library and also used Mintel to do some research. The reports showed a clear gap – something needed to be done about it. So I thought to myself, ‘I can solve this problem by creating this product.’

The next step was coming across this big seminar, ‘How to start a business’ by Enterprise Nation. It was packed with great tips, and amazingly, I met my branding agency there.

At the same time, I was testing out my products at home. I really struggled to understand how to put it in a jar! A Google search connected me with this commercial kitchen called The Olive Groves, and I decided to just ring up the owner for advice. He invited me to come to the kitchen and was amazingly helpful in answering all my questions about the production process.

From there, the journey really took off! I got an opportunity to go on a trade mission to China. It all happened so fast – in fact, I only produced and put my product into jars with my sticker logo a couple of days before I left!

Once I decided to produce on a bigger scale, I needed to find a manufacturer. But this was tougher than I thought, and took me quite a while. I went to five different manufacturers, all of whom said they’d try and work with my product. However, they eventually turned me down as the production scale was too small for them. I finally one at the end of 2019, and then it was full-steam ahead!

How did you finance your business?

We have a unique cooperative system in African culture, where a group of women will pay into a monthly pot, and each month one person benefits from the cash.”

@neemafood Instagram

In the African community, we have a cooperative system where a group of, say, five women pool money every month. For example, if everybody puts in £500 a month, that amounts to £2,500, and each month, one of the women in the group is awarded the money for a specific project or activity.

I was working, and I knew my mum wanted to do some work on the house, so we formed our own pool. For a year, we both contributed £1000 a month to this savings pot, and with that money I was able to fund things like branding and all the NPD work around that.

Towards the end of 2019, I was selected to take part in an accelerator program in Switzerland. I was there for four months, working with a lot of big mentors who helped us get investor-ready. It definitely worked, as I was able to successfully pitch my mentors for my first investment of £10,000. 

Do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs about fundraising?

“Be careful who you trust – and know your limits when it comes to compromise!”

@neemafood Instagram

Be careful who you trust, and know your limits for compromise.

I had a horrible experience with one investor who wanted to take over my business. He had recently left a major consulting company, and told me he wanted to use his sales expertise to help grow the business, as well as invest £100,000. We agreed on 17.5% equity stake – which was already high for me. However, the day before the money transfer, he told me he wanted to change this to 25%. He also said he would take over operations and sales, and that I should focus solely on marketing. I later found out he had also been having discussions with my manufacturer behind my back, most of which reflected very negatively on me. For these reasons, I told him I wasn’t going to accept his offer.

This experience has made me put a temporary hold on my fundraising. However, I’ve just been accepted onto a US accelerator program that introduces founders to investors – so let’s see what happens!

How did you build a successful customer base?

“I’m very obsessed with customer service and making sure my clients have a great experience.”

@neemafood Instagram

I’m very obsessed with customer service and making sure my clients have a really great experience. Whenever they contact me with comments or queries, I like to get back to them straight away. I also always email people who order and thank them for doing so, and also offer them discounts etc. Happily, we have amazing reviews online from our customers – 135 so far. So that’s the online engagement aspect.

In terms of building a B2B customer base, I’ve done a lot of work at festivals. Once people try the product out, they generally love it and from there, you’re usually on the shelf. 

What do you think are three main skills that entrepreneurs need to succeed?

“You need to be resilient, resourceful and take advantage of opportunities when they come along!”


1. Be resilient.

As an entrepreneur, you have to have a certain mindset that you are going to persistently and consistently go for it – despite all the challenges that you may face. So many things go wrong all the time. Things often take much longer to happen than you originally plan, and it can be really discouraging. So you need to have resilience to see it through. 

2. Be resourceful.

By that I mean, know when and where to go for help. No one is an island. Understand your own strengths and weaknesses, and find others to fill in the skills gaps. For example, I had no experience in the food industry. It’s taken me two years to even begin to understand how everything works. Having others with knowledge of how the food industry operates has been essential.

The same can be said for accounting. I really love that Addition takes the burden off my shoulders and makes my finances simple and streamlined. Do what you do best, and outsource the rest. 

3. Be a hustler.

Whenever opportunity knocks at your door, you have to take it. And if isn’t knocking, you need to do the knocking. Network like crazy. Put out feelers. If you’re open to opportunities and collaboration, don’t just wait for it to fall in your lap. Be constantly on the lookout for a chance to build your brand.

What would you do with unlimited resources?

“I’d love those resources to take the form of people. There’s always so much to be done, and this would help us scale up quickly!”

My mentor once said to me that if I’d had a huge amount of money handed to me at the beginning, I would’ve likely wasted a lot of it.

I think this is true. Two/three years on, I now have a better understanding of how and where to spend to make the most impact. So I think that having limited resources is really helpful in terms of allocating resources where they are most effective.

That being said, if I had unlimited resources, I would love this to take the form of people. There’s always so much to be done. We’re looking to explore different markets outside of the UK /EU, like the US and Asia. Unlimited resources in terms of people power would help us to scale up quickly!

Rose Yombo-Djema is an Addition client and CEO/Founder of Neema Food.

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