Ayo Alonge, [email protected]
Ali Williams is the Managing Director/CEO of Pro-Hygienitech International Company Limited, a startup into health (preventive medicine), hygiene and environmental management. The company, which has now gone into large scale production of sanitisers, has been sanitising multi-bedded facilities in Nigeria, Africa and Europe.
The US-trained environmentalist and entrepreneur, however, spoke with Daily Sun on the challenges that have greeted the production of sanitisers since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. He also discussed patronage and profitability.
We started the business of sanitising about six years ago as service provider sanitising for hospitals, hotels, hostels, private homes and other multi-bedded facilities. This was prompted by the fact that there are unseen micro organisms deeply embedded in our facilities and aggravating disease conditions. We deployed sanitising spray, UV-C light, sanitising rub and other hygiene products to enhance a gem and allergy free environment for our client. The availability of alcohol-base hand sanitiser (ABHS) is very important at the moment, regardless of whether locally or commercially manufactured, to satisfy the demand for effective infection control, provided simple guideline for the production is followed strictly with regulatory approval for large scale production. In many of our posts on social media, we constantly affirm that your life is in your hands. That’s because with proper hand hygiene and social distancing, you can remain safe from the virus. That’s why alcohol base hand sanitiser is very important at this time. Alcohol disrupts RNA molecules in the envelope within the virus, which are essential for a viral particle to make copies of itself. The lipid envelope of the virus provides a protective cover, while the embedded proteins help the virus attack our cells, enter them, and replicate. So, in a nut shell, the envelope is the Achilles heel of corona viruses. The lipid envelope of these viruses is relatively sensitive and thus can be destroyed by alcohols such as ethanol or 2-propanol. In order words, destroy the envelope, destroy the virus.
At a time when the Nigerian economy is struggling and the exchange rate to the US dollar is unfavourable, imported hand sanitiser formulations are unattractive, giving rise to the need and viability of locally-manufactured ones which is good for us. A major challenge is the continual increase in the cost of materials for production since the demand became high. Prices of production materials were hiked unnecessarily, and because we are known for standard, we could not produce substandard or adulterated hand sanitisers. The effect in the long run will outweigh profit. Struggling to maintain standard is quite challenging with the social nature of our company. I must state here too that the agencies for price regulation also failed greatly this time. We bought 500mls bottle and cover for N130. When we came back the following day, it had gone to N250. By evening, it became N350. That is one market. The same for other products and food items. So, it will make the society practically exposed and vulnerable to the pandemic if the hand rub becomes unaffordable because of the greedy nature of some business people and the lay back attitude of government agencies.
Our clients are potentially the global community, but there is need for citizens’ education for product and service acceptability. Our target clients for the hand rub include anyone that has hands. Though we have clients in hospitals, hotels, hostels, homes and corporate clients, as we educate them on hand hygiene and the need to use the hand rub where and when necessary.
Production and profitability
We started very small and we have our gaze on our strategic intent for short, medium and long term. We are growing naturally into large scale production but not with the current run of the mill situation where everybody is in the business because of COVID -19 pandemic. The business is profitable, but now, the profit is marginal for those of us that have built social entrepreneurship into our operations. A sustainable profit regime is very good for our going concern and we are doing all we can to enhance that.
Loan for large scale production
Access to finance, access to non-financial inputs and high cost of operation constitute night mares for businesses in Nigeria. Top on the pyramid of the difficulties is access to finance. Our financial institutions should develop products that guarantee easy access to long term business finances for small businesses, which are to drive the economy. Using short term credits to finance businesses in an uncertain economic reality will ultimately lead to a very chaotic business life and early stagnation, coma or even death of the enterprise.
Competition and patronage
In Pro-Hygienitech, we are in competition with nobody. We have a mission to carve out a niche for ourselves with the best acceptable international practice, compliance with local and international regulations, adherence to environmental and social rules and driving our business profitably. Most times, a focus on competition can cause a huge distraction and derail the business. For instance, some businesses see this global pandemic as time to make “super profit”- ripping people off, but we see it as a time to be socially responsible. No basis for competition. Patronage is low, but you need to understand that slow and steady wins the race. This unsustainable hike in prices of relevant goods and services for this season will be short-lived and when the dust finally settles, the people you deliberately ripped off may not deal kindly with your business.
The government’s role in business includes protecting the consumer or customer. The regulations are nice on paper but the enforcement is suffering setbacks. A time such as this is a time when government should step in and regulate prices to protect the poor masses and the vulnerable in the society from the hands of these primitive capitalist accumulators.
Lessons in entrepreneurship
Our economic system is at crossroads. We are not only dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the single most impactful event of a generation, but also the increasing effects of negative business change and social inequality are staring us in the face daily. I am of the opinion that the core lesson here is to become a breed of entrepreneurs, who work as employees within companies to develop business solutions for social, economic or environmental problems. Another core lesson is to be very visible online, it is a whole world on its own for business success. While we struggle with the immediate logistic, economical, material, medical, environmental, social marital and even spiritual impact of the COVID-19 crisis, there is a wider question about the purpose of business before us. The path to a lasting change won’t be easy, but we have an opportunity to demonstrate how small, medium and large companies can work for the societies they serve. Only the most future-looking companies that are willing to innovate, adapt and empathise will survive at the end.
Government’s support for SMEs
Governments at all levels can mandate local banks to work with startups and small businesses by providing loans or investment. Government can offer state loans that target small-businesses, startups, lower interest rates, give tax incentives, promote friendly trade policies, and encourage small exports. I am sure you know that our bank does not believe in startups.
Mitigating threats by COVID-19 on SMEs
The economies of the world are bleeding currently, Nigeria inclusive and some may bleed to death with all its pumps and pageantries. Businesses are not going to be spared globally. If you do an analysis of the COVID-19 impact, you will see that it will be uniquely damaging to small businesses. According to a recent Harvard Business Review, business leaders are asking whether the market drawdown truly signals a recession; how bad a COVID-19 recession would be, what the scenarios are for growth and recovery, and whether there will be any lasting structural impact from the unfolding crisis.