Challenged by the excessive importation of goods and services in his country, a young Nigerian, Brian-Gabriel Ndubuisi, has co-founded his own manufacturing company, Cups of Paper, which produces Eco-friendly, customized, disposable paper cups suitable for event and household use. Brian's dream is to challenge other young Nigerians to change the narrative by not just creating jobs for themselves but also creating jobs for others, as well as inventing products and services good enough to be exported beyond the shores of Nigeria.
In course of my recent visit to Abuja, Brian took me to Cups of Paper's manufacturing factory, and it was an experience that inspired me and renewed my hope for a greener Nigeria.
Origin of Paper Cups
According to the account on Wikipedia, "Paper cups have been documented in imperial China, where paper was invented by 2nd century BC. Paper cups were known as chih pei and were used for the serving of tea. They were constructed in different sizes and colors, and were adorned with decorative designs. Textual evidence of paper cups appears in a description of the possessions of the Yu family, from the city of Hangzhou."
Mainly preferred for its health and environmentally friendly benefits, paper cups have since been widely used in the western world; but not so much in Nigeria until Brian came back.
Why Start a Paper Cup Company in Nigeria?
After completing medical school in Russia, Brian came back all heated up and inspired to do something in his motherland. Currently on his Youth service Brian told me, "I realized that we can make things here in Nigeria. So I had this idea to make beautiful and environmentally friendly cups manufactured here in Nigeria. I met with my elder brother who studied Business Administration because obviously, I'm a doctor, and I had no business experience. He loved the idea, and he helped me to develop a good business plan, and that's how everything started."
Unlike the west, disposable plastic cups have gained more popularity here in Nigeria. Used for events, household, and office use, these cups are everywhere. However, it is good to note at this point that they are quite unfriendly to the environment and add up to the global plastic pollution level. This is one main reason Brian decided to start Cups of Paper.
How did you raise the start-up capital? "It was tough", Brian says. "We went back and forth a couple of times, and I had to go through a couple of friends who I'd previously helped to raise the funds." He continued, "I have to say, the real heroes here are my partners Mohammed Yahya and Umar Tela. They went above the age, religious and cultural divide between us, to see a fruitful idea and a young man passionate enough to make it happen. I wish more people would tow that line. Imagine a Nigeria, where the older, richer generation invests in great young ideas of hard working and passionate youths regardless of where they're from or whom they worship..."
Listening to Brian's story, I'm reminded of the challenges young entrepreneurs face in raising capital for their enterprises. I'm also reminded of the power of relationships, and how building sustainable relationships can help us in more ways than we can imagine.
Turning to the manufacturing machine, I ask Brian, "How do you operate this? Who taught you how to operate it?" With a smile on his face, he says, "I don't know, it is common sense I guess..." Dr Brian, with help from the machine's manual and his mechanical-engineering-friend, taught himself to operate the machine and he can even detect little faults made in production and fix it. He calls it common sense, but how many people around the world have decided to make use of this common sense?
The beautifully designed paper cups piled on the machine draw my attention, and again I ask, "Who designs the cups for you? the person is really good." "Thank you." Brian answers, "I do them myself on Corel Draw, and it only took 1 week to learn." Completely astonished I continue to watch as Brian shows his new employee, Adam, around the machine.
As we got into the car to leave, I tell him, "One down from the unemployment figures rgiht?" He replies with a smile and says, "...and many more to come as the company continues to grow."
We drive off with my complimentary pack of paper cups as a gift from the company. Beyond the gift, I kept pondering on how wonderful Nigeria will become if more 27-year olds like Brian and even those younger, will decide to change the narrative; if only people will decide to use the little things around them to do much. If only.
Sustainable Cups: Built in Nigeria, Made for the world
Manufacturing products in Nigeria is not rocket science; just as Brian has showed us. Brian's business plan is very strategic and robust, and he hopes to replace the plastic cups all over Nigeria with his renewable cups. He also dreams of expanding to neighbouring African countries like Ghana and Cameroon, as a way of spreading the sustainability gospel.
Besides drinking, Brian also showed me other ways his paper cups can be put to use. Gardening and interior design are some other ways used paper cups can be used.
Starting with retail shops and departmental stores, Brian's dream is to push the Paper Cups to as many hands as possible including the government--Yes, the government.
2015 is the deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, and the Sustainable Development Goals will be launched as well. I'll like to challenge governments--especially the Nigerian government--to walk their talk by supporting businesses like Cups of Paper by at least patronizing them and taking the lead as we campaign for sustainability in the years to come.
How can I get my Own Paper Cups?
You can visit the company's website, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or call +234(0)816-851-9233
I just hope more youths, in Africa and around the world, will take up the challenge young innovators like Brian are throwing out there by starting enterprises of their own in order to defeat the unemployment monster. In the mean time, Cheers! to a more sustainable world.
(Images Credit: Cups of Paper/Brian-Gabriel Ndubisi)