Photograph — Ventures Africa

There have been numerous stories about how coffee causes heart disease, mental illness, and so on. Most of which accounts for low consumption of the beverage among many in Africa’s most populous nation. In light of this, indigenous coffee startup, Nilis Coffee is on a mission to change how Nigerian’s work and study by providing a one-stop location to refresh them.

According to a report, Tea or cocoa which is most preferred by Nigerians has a forecast to account for close to 40 percent of Nigeria’s non-alcoholic drink spending by 2023. Coffee, on the other hand, will only account for about 2.5 percent. Nilis Coffee through its specialty coffee seeks to change that figure by driving local coffee consumption while solving social problems in education through an initiative  called “coffee4change.”

Co-founded by Frank Thomas and Emmanuel Asiedu, two young undergraduates of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Osun state, the startup hopes to drive productivity and stir infrastructural growth through its specialty coffee brand. Speaking with Ventures Africa, co-founder, Thomas Frank explains the importance of this cause and why its crucial for their brand.

3 years ago, as a freshman on campus, Thomas recognized the problem of poor funding in the Nigerian education system. The 21-year-old Political Science student also knew that he was not alone in the struggle for academic productivity while learning under poor conditions. He just wanted to change the state of things. That desire for change birthed the idea of Nilis Coffee.

“We realize how badly funded public tertiary institutions are generally and how this reflects in poor facilities and in turn how students like us struggle with productivity learning under these conditions. So, we decided we were going to start a specialty coffee shop on our campus to help fuel students to stay productive and also drive social change by using funds donated at our cart when they buy coffee to helping shape and make our classrooms better and more conducive for learning.” – Frank Thomas.

Ventures Africa (VA): Tell us about Nilis Coffee?

Thomas Frank (TF): Nilis is a startup that is set to change the way Nigerians work and study through specialty coffee. For us, our core purpose of starting Nilis is to nurture the spirit of excellence in people which cuts across building communities of like-minded individuals who are pushing values daily, trying to make a change in their communities.

VA: How long has Nilis Coffee been in business?

FT: We have not officially launched yet. We had plans of officially opening this year. However, given the pandemic and the incessant ASUU strike we have not been able to launch. We plan on fast-tracking things as soon as our campuses are open.

VA: Where do you intend to source your coffee from?

FT: Initially, during my early research, I had plans of importing my coffees from Ethiopia, but fortunately for us, I met with some coffee roasters here in Nigeria. I also got to find out that we grow coffee here in Nigeria- namely in Imo state, Taraba, Jos and Ekiti. So, it’s a win for us because we are trying to drive local consumption in Nigeria and having coffee farmers here will give us that sense of security and a more organized supply chain. So yes, we will be sourcing our beans locally here in Nigeria.

VA: Does Nilis have specific varieties of coffee it would like to specialise in?

FT: Yes, it’s a specialty coffee and we would mostly be dealing with Arabica. 

VA: What do you think about the Nigeria market and what would be the impacts of its policies on your business?

FT: One of the early challenges we are facing right now is a drop in purchasing power due to the prevailing economic situation Nigeria is facing, on the verge of another recession. So this will affect the spending power for most of our target market. It is a moment for us to take a step back and stick out creative ways in which we can drive cost low.

VA: Do you have a prospective market base in view? 

FT: Yes, we have. We previously ran a brief kick-starter on Campus. I mean, we did a small prelaunch on campus for students and we received some good responses. So yes, we do have.

VA: How do you intend to drive sales when you finally start?

FT: Part of our plans to create awareness and generate more sales would be to drive sales to hammer the fact that what Nilis is about is creating a better campus, creating a better community where student like us can thrive and grow. So, we would emphasize more on that to attract people who are more likely to buy into that idea of creating a better community for themselves and people coming after them. Also, we would engage student ambassadors on Campus. We would spread our message as much as we can through social campaigns and through the use of these ambassadors to let our target market know that Nilis Coffee is basically a mission-focused startup that is striving to actively seek to nurture their spirits and drive change in their community.

VA: Your business seems to be focused on only students in a study environment. Do you have plans to expand beyond the university terrain? Overall, what is the big picture for you?

FT: Yes, the big pictures for me to expand beyond our initial market. If you recall, the Nilis Coffee is on a mission to nurture the spirit of excellence in people. By people, we mean students, professionals and virtually everyone. Coffee can be enjoyed by everyone. So yes, we have plans of expanding beyond our initial market. But for now, we are setting our base on Campuses. Nigeria, traditionally, is not a coffee-drinking nation. So we want to stir and drive consumption of specialty coffee and create a cultural trend and change from students because we realize that they are more receptive to modern ideas and new market trends. We are starting from there strategically to fundamentally change the idea and the notion around what coffee consumption is in Nigeria.

VA: Do you have investors or partners who have committed funds into the business or it’s a self-funded business?

FT: Up to this point, it has been self-funded. But basically, since the pandemic, we’ve actually been seeking funding from private investors and crowdfunding platforms. Currently, we have not had any luck with regards to private investments. But we are still keeping our options open and we are still actively seeking investments. We’ve been running a fundraiser lately on Gofundme to crowdfund our capital. One important aspect of this project is how we’re trying to give people the power to create the future they want and how we want to do this by raising funds through Gofundme so we can open our first cart and make our schools better.

VA: Why choose coffee and not some other business? 

FT: Personally, I don’t see business as a way of solving problems to make a profit. I see business as a way of solving, making a profit and also actively impacting your immediate community. For the question as to why coffee, it all boils down to the very first morning that I had this idea of having coffee shops on our campuses. It’s quite ironic that coffee which is originated in Africa is experiencing low consumption in the same continent. As a student, I find it very difficult to stay productive due to how heavy the workload in our universities are and due to the conditions we are forced to learn under. So, we would go from class to class and feel exhausted. There was nothing healthy, there was a lack of that energy boost for me. So, that was when I had the idea of this business. If people could take caffeinated drinks to give them that boost to forge ahead and to keep working, why not give them something more healthy? Something more organic.

VA: Don’t you think that the excessive use of coffee would have an adverse effect on the mental health of your potential customers?

FT: No. The reason why I said that is we had to tackle this same issues when we were trying to conduct our market study. We had interviews with several students and one of the reasons they gave us why they saw coffee as something bad for them was that they had this misconception that caffeine was damaging to their health. That’s not entirely true. In fact, coffee has immense benefits health wise and a moderate caffeine intake is actually good for the body. It keeps you alert and active. So, if you are consuming around 140gms of caffeine every day, that’s actually healthy. Clinically, it has been proven that caffeine is not bad for your health. Except for excessive intake. Also, one of the ways we are hoping to drive consumption is through consumer education because most people seem to have this idea that coffee is just bad and that’s something we can change through effective and constant consumer education.

Do you have any social media handle currently?

Yes, we do. On Facebook, we’re @niliscoffee. We also have a website,

Thomas, the young co-founder, completed his primary and secondary education within the university environment before gaining admission 3 years ago. He has a wide range of interests, particularly in graphics and web design and has had the opportunity of working in a creative agency where he had a first-hand experience of running a business. 

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