Today’s featured members of the VC4Africa community are entrepreneurs Isoken Ogiemwonyi & Wonuola Okoye of LPM/L’Espace. Having achieved a substantial impact on the Lagos shopping culture already, they’re currently looking for investments to expand in Nigeria and internationally.
After participating in the virtual accelerator program of venture capital community VC4Africa they recently pitched their Nigerian fashion company at the Angel Fair West Africa event in Lagos, where 20 African SME entrepreneurs pitched in front of investors.
L’Espace is a multi-brand concept store in Lagos; Le Petit Marche (LPM) is an innovative monthly market. Co-founder Isoken Ogiemwonyi originally graduated as a lawyer (LL.B) and also holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Hospitality Administration and an MSc in Management. Co-founder Wonuola Okoye originally graduated in Chemical Engineering, and also worked as an Investment Banker, before the two started Le Petit Marche and L’Espace. We had a chance to catch up with the co-founders, winners of many prizes, after the Angel Fair West Africa event in Lagos.
How was it to pitch at the Angel Fair?
“Pitching at the Angel Fair gave us a chance to package our story and our brand for the first time as well as the opportunity to share it with other interested parties. We have had some interest, as well as some new propositions following the pitch sessions and we are very positive about the outcome.”
What’s the essence of your business and why is it interesting for investors?
“We provide fashion infrastructure. We drive discovery for brands in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle verticals and make shopping experiential and accessible to the shoppers. We work with a simple mixed revenue model that has worked in other concept store and department store environments, so it wasn’t that hard to convince investors to understand what we were trying to achieve. When you mention for example 10 Corso Como or Selfridges – it becomes easier to follow what we want to create for the brands and the shoppers.”
How did you grow LPM to where you are now?
“While Le Petit Marche is a distribution and promotion platform for fledgling businesses, L’Espace is the accelerator for fashion businesses ready for the next step. With L’Espace we ameliorate the burden of finding ways to distribute your product to your target audience, in a space with complementary goods and services in a location most young fashion entrepreneurs would find it difficult to get or sustain.
Before Le Petit Marche (LPM), we had been thinking of different ways to expand and gain exposure for both our individual brands (Lagos Look and Obsidian). That was when the idea to launch LPM came to us, and it all evolved naturally.
With LPM we identified a distribution chasm in the Nigerian retail industry. Although we knew there was a need, we couldn’t be certain that the Nigerian market was ready for it. So it wasn’t always smooth sailing – in fact there were many days we wanted to give up and close up shop entirely! But we persevered and pushed and continued to make an impact.
Fortunately, we did have a few friends who were retailers and participated in the first LPM. We offered a huge incentive for them by making it free, because we were confident that they would see the value and continue to participate.
As a next step we recently took our shopping experience online, so as to bring in people who cannot come into the store physically – whether in Lagos or in other cities. So far, the online orders are growing and we are ramping up awareness in the next few months. We see it as being one of our biggest revenue spinners by the end of the year. We see ‘clicks and mortar’ as the best way to reach our target consumer nationwide and beyond.”
What are your unique selling points compared to your competitors?
“We created a unique culture and experience for both L’Espace and LPM and its proven hard to replicate. There’s a sense of community which we take very seriously and its made it easy for us to tap into that community to figure out the right designers to carry, what our shoppers want and to deliver the best customer service experience possible. We are also committed to creating other entrepreneurs, nurturing their brands and being part of the growth story of African owned businesses.”
How do you look back at your participation in VC4Africa’s September cohort & other parts of VC4Africa, and what are your suggestions to other entrepreneurs?
“VC4Africa is the perfect platform for networking and growing entrepreneurs bold enough to start potentially great companies. The community has opened us up to what’s out there in terms of African potential and how to build awareness. The cohort answered many questions we had about the investment process and also exposed us to other entrepreneurs who had similar challenges, who we could talk to and learn from. The mentors and supervisors from VC4Africa have been extremely supportive and have helped us in numerous ways, from making important introductions to putting us forward for events like the Angel Fair.
To other entrepreneurs, I suggest they use VC4Africa as much as they can, take advantage of the limitless resources and opportunities presented and just work hard to achieve whatever goals set.”
What investments have you already secured, and which amount and what kind of investors are you still looking for?
“We are partly self-funded, and we also had some initial funding from family and friends. We are presently looking to raise USD 320,000 from medium to long-term equity investors who have valuable experience that can fuel our expansion.”
Which milestones do you want to reach with your investments, and what do you hope to achieve in the long run?
“With new investment, we will expand L’Espace in two more locations nationwide and build brand awareness for all our locations and our online store. We also aim to start four new LPM’s: two in Nigeria, one in London and one in Accra.
In the long run we want to achieve a pan-African focus as well as taking Africa to the world. Our aim is to build a brand that is recognized for positioning and driving discovery of African brands in the luxury and contemporary categories.”