Skip to main content

Dec 17, 2020 | School of Business

"Don't be afraid of failure!"

Launching a new business in the middle of the pandemic? For Andrew Mpeqa, taking risks is part of the game.

Andrew Mpeqa used to be a student, researcher and lecturer at the FHNW School of Business. Now, he’s applying theory to practice: in late 2020, Andrew Mpeqa launched his first business in Switzerland, PrimeAcon Group GmbH. With the first product under the brand name Seshoai, a healthy and refreshing ginger craft drink, he wants to bring a taste of African traditions to Europe. In our interview, Andrew offers his tips for aspiring entrepreneurs and explains why failure does not equal defeat.

Andrew, could you tell us a bit about your product? What is Seshoai?
The word Seshoai describes an old Lesotho tradition of eating and drinking. Equivalent to what we know today as organic and “Bio”, Seshoai simply expresses the essence of organic eating and drinking. My product Seshoai is a ginger drink based on tastes and traditions from Lesotho and South Africa.

How did you develop the idea for this drink?
The journey of Seshoai sadly began with the untimely loss of my brother. In February 2019, I lost my older brother, who was in his early forties, to a rare cancer. It hit me really hard and in June 2019, I decided to take a half-year break. I wanted to reconnect with the family back at home and to try and get some closure. It was a difficult journey and part of an ongoing healing process for the whole family.

In Lesotho, an additional challenge was maintaining my habit of having a morning espresso. Instant coffee was all that I could find for home use. As a lover of quality coffee, this pushed my frustration to the limit. It felt ironic given that the African continent is one of the largest producers of good quality coffee. But still, finding a reasonable cup of quality coffee felt like a mission to the galaxy and beyond. However, I discovered that most of my relatives have ginger-based beverages in the morning. My morning coffee tradition was soon replaced by drinking a fresh and naturally prepared ginger drink. This new morning habit stayed with me when I returned to Switzerland and marked the beginning of the development of Seshoai beverages.

Beitrag-Seshoai.jpg

Photo by Thomas Wüthrich.

On every bottle of Seshoai, it says “born in Africa, brewed in Switzerland”. How do you go about marketing an African flavour in Switzerland?
In South Africa, where I started my first own business, it takes about 48 hours to register and make your company official. In Switzerland, the bureaucratic process alone can take up to four weeks and after that, the administrative work behind the normal operations can feel endless. Of course, I follow all the regulations, but for acquisitions, I decided to try a more informal approach when looking for distributors. Generally, the Swiss business community values fixed appointments and schedules. But, in my experience, it is difficult to convince them to even spare the time and listen to your proposal when you try to schedule a meeting. With everyone now struggling with meetings and emails due to Covid-19, the formal way is tediously difficult. I prefer to go to a store, walk up to the manager, tell my story and offer them to try my product. This is how I am used to doing business in the context of Africa. And it works here in Switzerland just as well! Sometimes a personal connection is all it takes, and people are delighted to get to know the face behind the product.

It is quite an undertaking to start your own business, especially in the middle of a pandemic. What does it take to make that move?

It takes dose of courage, a supporting ecosystem and some passion. For the courage, I am really grateful to my wife, who encouraged me to jump in at the deep end. The supporting ecosystem was something I encountered during my time at FHNW. The MSc International Management has a focus on applying theory to practice. This was significantly beneficial and an important learning that prepared me to face diverse challenges. It prepared me for reality and taught me to be nimble. I am thankful for the experience of my studies, which also led me to teaching. Moreover, FHNW has been instrumental in building a good network. The university also didn’t hesitate to take my product. They immediately believed in the quality and mission of their own by-product. I found that to be admirable and supportive. I was positively shocked when I received a message from the director of the FHNW School of Business informing me that they had already sold over 600 bottles!

Finally, I have always been passionate about entrepreneurship. This time even more so, as I want to change the African narrative within Europe. Usually when I asked my students, “what innovation do you know that came from Africa?” the room went silent. The prevalent mode of thinking is still that Europe needs to help Africa when, in fact, many great ideas and businesses get started in Africa. They just need more visibility.

What advice would you give to students and aspiring entrepreneurs?
Take a leap of faith and don’t be afraid of failure! You really can never know until you try something. As entrepreneurs, we say “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” So, if you fail, turn that failure into something meaningful. You can write a book about your experience or turn it into a lecture series and inspire others.

What are your plans for the future of Seshoai?
Scaling and optimising the production process are the next plans. Moreover, next year I plan to release the next flavour of Seshoai with a healthy twist.

Further information

Seshoai on Facebook

Website MSc International Management

Contact

PrimeAcon Group GmbH

aW5mb0BzZXNob2FpLmNvbQ==

Share this page: