The word ‘multi’ comes up many times in a conversation with 28-year-old Dubai-based Nigerian businesswoman Gbemi Giwa.
“I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur with a knack for turning ideas into creative impactful brands…. I am a multi-hyphenated person…” she says in a Zoom interview on a hot summer day in August from her abode in the sunny city of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Although Giwa started out as an influencer and launched several businesses in the glistening Middle Eastern emirate by the time she turned 26, she is wary of calling herself ‘a serial entrepreneur’.
Now making a conscious effort to focus solely on her core competence – the food business – she says her passion project remains Catfish, an online restaurant serving “a healthy twist on African dishes” that she launched in Dubai in 2018.
The realization to hone in on one serious endeavor came after a few “bold moves” and the twists and turns that the Covid-19 pandemic brought when Giwa was forced to close down Gbemi’s Kitchen, the physical restaurant she started in 2019 at the Jumeirah Lake Towers in Dubai serving authentic Nigerian food.
“In 2020, Covid hit and for the first time, I navigated a big loss with the shutting of my restaurant concepts, forcing me to start afresh with a larger focus on building a Covid-proof business with a deeper focus on digital,” she says of those tough months.
She started by launching a consulting company called Digiboss to help women in business build their online profiles to establish themselves as thought leaders, whilst consistently attracting profitable partnership opportunities.
“I help millennial women build an impactful personal brand and commit to taking action by teaching them profitable action steps to validate their creative ideas, craft them into polished concepts and launch them into the real world,” says Giwa.
“Using the same method I teach my clients, I was able to secure funding to relaunch my restaurant Catfish just at the end of the pandemic. I’m currently navigating our redirection into the e-commerce space and retail by taking a piece of the growing ready-to-eat industry.”
The food business is not new for her. It was while at design school in 2014 that she launched Dubai Fit Foodie, a wellness blog she calls her “longest-paying side hustle”. Her growing years shaped her early love for African food and she wanted to give it the respect it deserved.
A year later, she turned her love for dancing by launching dance classes in Dubai, teaching Afrofit, which she calls her “second longest-paying side hustle”.
In 2016, she specialized in creating impactful digital campaigns for local and international brands in the Middle East. A year later, yet again foraying into the business world, she launched a boutique agency specializing in branding and content creation for F&B concepts.
Even when she was 16, on a plane to Dubai from Lagos to enrol at the American University of Sharjah, she was already harboring ideas of creating content and an impactful career. Even if at times, this meant going against the norm and using the word ‘no’ multiple times to her now-late father, also a businessman, who took a keen interest in her professional journey.
“I am from a classic African family that says ‘either you become a doctor or a lawyer, or you are nobody’.
“But ever since I went to design school, I’ve been obsessed with ideas. I believe good ideas come when you explore and exhaust several bad ideas, but a good idea is nothing without action.”
Luckily, she was glad to find herself in Dubai.
“It’s one of the easiest places to do business in, especially if you know the right people and have the money… I always tell youngsters it’s better to partner with the right mentor, as they have the experience and you can keep learning from them.”
Where there’s hustle, there’s also heart.
“My passion will always be around creating content, product, and brands that reflect my African roots and help people embrace wellness in order to feel like their happier healthiest selves,” says Giwa.
Currently catering for events and working towards moving Catfish into the e-commerce space, she will also be seen at The Ripe Market, a farmers’ market in Dubai, from October.