We also got the chance to interview Lola Adeyemi, a Nigerian Canadian Immigrant who launched her Food & Beverage Company “It’s Souper” in a bid to fill a vast gap in the market where she found there was no space for African inspired ethnic recipes. In this segment, Lola talks about what led her to lay the foundation of It’s Souper and how her journey has been till now. Additionally, Lola also elaborates on some of the challenges she faced and what other aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women, can learn from them.
Lola a Nigerian Canadian Immigrant launched her Food & Beverage Company “It’s Souper” which currently produces Afro-Fusion Soups & Sauces because she felt there was a need to fill the void in the mainstream Retail space for African inspired/ethnic recipes made “By Us for All”. Her brand is the first African & Black-owned line of Soups sold in mainstream Canadian Retail and was nominated by the Retail Council of Canada for a Best New Product of the Year Award in 2019. Its Souper is currently sold online Canada-wide, and across Ontario Canada via retailers such as Sobeys, Whole Foods, Ambrosia Natural Foods, McEwan’s, Healthy Planet, and other Indie retailers. With two new sauces launching in the Fall of 2021 in addition to the current West African Pepper Sauce, adding more shelf-stable options to the product line – the brand is set and ready for National and International distribution.
What is the mission of your organization?
Its Souper’s mission is to fill a void that exists in Canada for African-inspired meals and expose Canadians to a whole new world of food.
What was the motivation behind coming up with the idea for Its Souper?
As an African immigrant, I was often looking for food that reminded me of home. I also wanted food that was fast, convenient but still healthy. I realized there was a gap in retail for this kind of cuisine, so I created something with the nostalgia of home. I wanted to fill that gap emotionally for myself by seeing a brand that represented me and my culture on the shelves. I also wanted to provide access to heartier, spicier, and healthier products that were easy to prepare.
How has the Cassels Black Owned Small Business Grant changed your business?
The grant has changed my business significantly. It has given me the opportunity to grow my business without having to apply for loans, which are difficult to get in the food and beverage industry as banks consider the industry high risk. Plus, being a Black woman and a first-generation immigrant still building my credit profile in Canada, I am not seen as an attractive person to lend to. The grant came at a really good time because I was planning to scale, and I was able to do so without having to deal with the loans process.
The pro bono legal services have also been extremely valuable. Cassels has provided me with guidance on all legal aspects such as evaluating my trademark, improving my corporate documents, and reviewing contracts with partners and vendors. This has taken an immense amount of stress off of me and getting access to such a large and well-known firm as a small business has been such a great opportunity.
How do you feel being a female entrepreneur in a quite stringent and competitive business environment?
I try not to look at myself as a female entrepreneur, but rather just as an entrepreneur. It does occur to me that it would have been easier for me if I had been male – I have experienced being spoken over, not being heard, and not being taken seriously for my business idea. For me, the most effective approach has been separating myself from those feelings, focusing on the work, and not letting anything distract me from my goal.
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Can you elaborate on some of the challenges you faced and what other aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women, can learn from them?
The biggest challenge I faced was not having another Black female entrepreneur in this industry and that I could look up to. When you see someone successful who looks like you, you feel like it’s attainable. Now I can inspire others, but I have also made mistakes along the way because I was the one who created the path.
I felt so alone, but if you don’t limit yourself to your race or gender, you can find amazing mentors. It is human nature to go to someone who is familiar, but for me in this industry, it was hard to find someone.
Sometimes the factors that make starting a business more difficult – such as being Black or female – are the reasons that people want to help. There are also many organizations that have been created to help people like me, so I encourage you to seek them out.
What suggestions do you have for small-scale businesses that are finding it hard to pull through during these challenging times?
One of the things I tell myself is to take it a day at a time because there are so many challenges when it comes to running a small business in the Canadian landscape. So many external challenges, like the pandemic, are beyond your control, so focus on the things that you can control. Think big, have a big dream but plan in small increments. Plan in a way that doesn’t overwhelm you and take it one step at a time. Set up short-term smaller goals to achieve your big dream – this has always helped me feel less overwhelmed.