We had the pleasure of working with Mercy Nenelwa Kitomari, founder and CEO of Nelwa’s Gelato. Mercy was a wonderful person and extremely easy to relate to with an infectious personality. Though she has endured the journey of entrepreneurship for 5 years, she persists in the “very challenging” environment and market that she works in. She has experienced a lot of trial and error over the years and is now pivoting to a new, yet highly refined business model.
Mercy was inspired to start Nelwa’s after witnessing the popularity of the treat when she was studying for her master’s degree in business administration in London. She took a class while there on how to make gelato and started Nelwa’s upon returning to her home country of Tanzania. Mercy believed she could capitalize on the fresh fruits and spices that are amply available in Tanzania to create a rich and fresh tasting gelato. Her product also contains a lower fat percentage than traditional ice cream. Mercy gets all of her supplies fresh from local merchants. She began the company in 2013, making the gelato in her mother’s kitchen.
Her original business plan focused on selling by the scoop from her own cafe in Dar es Salaam. After struggling to hold down a rental space, Mercy decided to reinvent her brand. Now Mercy focuses on selling in bulk to restaurants, hotels, cafes, and bakeries. She also does custom orders for events, such as weddings and birthdays, able to serve crowds of up to 1000 individuals. Her flavors range from the usual chocolate and vanilla to ubuyu, a fruit produced by the native boabab trees. In the past, Mercy has produced some very unique flavor combinations for her custom orders, such as rum and coke.
Nelwa’s Gelato currently employs six individuals, and Mercy specifically looks to higher young women who are often single mothers and unable to complete their education. In the long-term, Mercy hopes to grow the company to a level where she is able to set aside funds to send her employees back to work. In addition to her gelato sale, Mercy has a number of side projects. Mercy teaches a class on how to make soft serve ice cream to allow small businesses to add ice cream to their product list. She also gives talks on entrepreneurship to youth and supports a local orphanage, by providing food, as well as gelato of course.
Over the years, Mercy has earned a number of awards and recognition for her work, including entrepreneur of the year, start-up of the year, and Tanzanian top 50 brands. She was also featured in multiple media outlets, including segments on CNN and BBC that highlighted her entrepreneurial success. Moving forward, Mercy’s biggest challenges will be establishing a larger consumer base and continuing to secure the necessary capital in order to expand and meet the demands of her growing business.
Amber and Hannah