Kampala, Uganda | AGNES. E. NANTABA | What could get a young electrical engineer in the top rungs of an international oil and gas corporation to quit and instead venture into her private start-up with an unclear future? For Maxima Nsimenta, founder and CEO of Livara Natural and Organic Cosmetics, it was passion – and the wisdom she picked from her grandmother, Teresa Mbire, who is one of the top female entrepreneurs in Uganda.
Nsimenta says she has always loved cosmetics and make-up even as a teenager studying at Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga, in Mukono district.
“I would smuggle in eye pencil and lipstick to pursue my passion during school parties and other social gatherings,” she says. She soon became the go-to girl for cosmetics and makeup at the school.
But her curiosity around cosmetics peaked when, as a top student of chemistry, she started analysing the compositions of cosmetics.
“I realised that the most expensive cosmetics were those with ingredients from Africa,” she recalls.
At the time, just a year after graduation, Nsimenta had landed a job as a Field Engineer at one of the world’s largest oil and gas service companies; Schlumberger Limited of Houston, Texas, USA. She was based in Congo, central Africa, earning an average between US$7000 and US$10,000, and just four positions away from that of managing director. Her job as field officer was very hands-on and technical but she still found time to nurse her passion for cosmetics.
She discovered that one of the key ingredients in many cosmetics is Shea butter which is extracted from the fat of nuts of the African Shea tree (vitellaria paradoxa) which is grown in northern Uganda. So during one of her holidays, she headed north to see the Shea trees and learn more about Shea butter.
She was hooked and decided to drop the corporate job and pursue her passion for Shea butter as a business. Her grandmother, Mbire, encouraged her. She told her that as long as she had the passion and was willing to work hard, they would carry her through. She introduced her to officials at the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) and since Nsimenta already had her business and market plans, she convinced them easily and her business got incubated. But her mother was not impressed.
Part of the reason is that Nsimenta’s job at Schlumberger was the typical white-collar destination for a smart person like her. In 1999 she had been in the news for her exceptional performance in the national Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE). She was the best girl performer in Mukono district. Four years later, she maintained her excellent performance scoring eight aggregates in the best eight subjects at O’ Level. She and her parents, Cissy Bagamuhunda Nyamarere and Paul Nyamarere, agreed on a career in sciences and she studied physics, chemistry, mathematics and economics at HSC before joining Makerere University in Kampala to study electrical engineering.
At the university, she was placed among a talented team that worked the famous Kira EV, an electrical hybrid car made in Uganda by the university engineering students and faculty. Later, under the Presidential Initiative on Science and Technology, she developed software for managing academic records that was picked up by Makerere universities, Ndejje University in Uganda and some universities in Kenya.
“Mother encouraged me to take electrical engineering because it rhymed well with my abilities,” she says. They are so close. But Nsimenta’s decision to quit her top job tested that. In the end, she bent to her mother’s desires and continued with her work as a field engineer. But she got a technical team to do the product development of her Shea butter cosmetics. After a year, they had three workable products and Nsimenta was ready to concentrate on business under the Livara Natural and Organic Cosmetics brand.
By the close of 2015, Livara products were on market. Today, the company has three operational stores with turnover of Shs1.5 billion (Approx. US$400,000) and getting bigger.
Nsimenta prides in Livara being the first company in East and Central Africa to make natural and organic lipstick.