How a St. Louis Entrepreneur Got Revved Up to Fix Africa’s Auto Problem
If you were working with superstars like Janet Jackson, would you be looking for more?
For most people, the answer would be a resounding “No!” But St. Louis native Genera Moore isn’t most people. After years of event management and booking top celebrities for events in Dubai, Genera started to feel like she’d hit her ceiling — and that she could do more.
“I wondered how people were making their wealth there,” she says. “I knew I needed to analyze and have a plan in place. So, I started asking questions about trade. I heard ‘buy from one place low, sell to you high.’ It was as basic as that.”
Tackling Africa’s car problem
Genera worked to establish a luxury motorcar brand in Dubai. That opened her eyes to the automotive world.
“I knew I wanted to go into the automotive field because I knew it was a big market, but I didn’t know what avenue to take at first,” she says. “Then I knew I wanted to do business with Africa.”
Owning a car in west Africa is challenging. Buyers must pay in cash. It’s expensive to import a car. So many cars have high mileage and are more likely to need repairs. Repairs require parts, and not many auto parts are manufactured in Africa. These issues don’t represent nice-to-haves for the people of west Africa; they are life and death problems. Automobile accidents are one of the top causes of death in the region, right up there with malaria, AIDS and stroke.
Genera established Motorparts Nation to help address these needs.
Entrepreneurial support in Missouri
Genera moved home to start her business.
“When I came back to St. Louis, I was busy researching what to do with my company,” she says. “I needed entrepreneurship support but I didn’t know it existed, to be honest.”
Fortunately, Genera found ITEN. This organization is a catalyst for innovation. It provides programs to help entrepreneurs rapidly develop successful companies.
“I can’t say enough about the support you receive from ITEN,” Genera says. “It’s the support every entrepreneur should receive in any city.”
Genera has worked with mentors from ITEN to help her think about her business in new ways and find creative solutions to the problems that can plague new enterprises.
“Having mentors isn’t ‘Hey, do my work for me,’” she says. “You can express what’s going on with your business and there’s someone else you can bounce ideas off. They’ll say, ‘Look at it this way,’ and it makes you look a lot further, helps you find ways to implement things into your business. It can really save the day with ideas and implementation.”
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This support helped Genera start supplying auto parts to a few clients in Nigeria. And true to her nature, she started asking questions.
“I was having conversations with companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year on auto parts,” Genera says. “I would ask questions because I’m buying from them, so I put it in their hands to help me out, which they did willingly. I’m buying from you; I want the knowledge that you have. We’re helping each other.”
Building it in Ghana
Business in Nigeria didn’t last long.
“I ended up starting my business in Ghana,” Genera says. “Currently, we’re transforming the lives of auto mechanics in Ghana from the United States. I have a team in Ghana, but a lot of the parts I get, I buy from Missouri, New York and Georgia. I buy from the different states where parts are available and I ship them out. The United States has a huge market for exporting auto parts to Africa. It hasn’t been measured, but it has to be in the billions of dollars.”
There was certainly financial opportunity in exporting auto parts to Africa. But Genera saw the human opportunity as well.
“I didn’t just want to export to the market,” she says. “I knew the mechanics from when I visited. I knew they needed help with training. I said, ‘I need to create a program where if they purchase from me, I can easily train them. You buy this much from me per month, I will be able to invest back into you and train you.’”
Motorparts Nation started this training program in 2019. The response was overwhelming. So, Genera stepped it up this year.
“I decided to use software,” she says. “It’s a success story through the United States in auto shops and repair shops – they can now use software to fix your car right away. There’s so much technology on vehicles, so how can you figure it out with your brain unless you’re properly trained? It’s just difficult.”
Now, mechanics who previously had limited knowledge can repair advanced cars. They can order parts based on the data provided by the scanner.
“It was just using creativity with solutions that already work,” Genera says.
She’s headed back to Ghana soon to work with the six-person team she has in place there. And she’s looking to hire additional people soon.
Get started, ditch validation
When it comes to starting your own business, Genera suggests entrepreneurs look to a surprising resource: themselves.
“I would definitely tell them to work on themselves internally,” she says. “From a spiritual standpoint, we think we aren’t successful because of doubt. A lot of people don’t think too highly of themselves if they don’t get validation from family, friends, whoever. If you decide you’re going into business, you can spend too much time looking for validation. It doesn’t make sense.
“You are the person with the vision. You have a vision for a reason. Getting validation from others is null and void. You can get advice from people who know business, but just getting an opinion from someone – ‘Hey, should I start the business?’ – well, of course you should start the business. That’s not the hard part. The hard part is execution.”
Once you’ve got your internal house in order, there are external resources that can make all the difference. In addition to ITEN, Genera also received guidance from the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Washington University. The Minority Business Development Agency helped her take advantage of the Doing Business in Africa program. And the U.S. Commercial Service assisted in establishing connections overseas.
Doing business in other countries presents unique challenges. But Genera has found that some things are the same everywhere.
“Do market research in the market. Go to the market,” she says. “You can email, but nothing is like a face to face. You can’t maneuver with just the internet. It’s not something that would make you successful in the end.”
Entrepreneurs at all points of their ventures can get support from ITEN.
“I like how the value chain is never to turn you away,” says Genera.
ITEN hosts events on the second Thursday of each month. These gatherings have gone virtual for now, but you can find 2nd Thursday info online. At the July event, Genera was one of three founders who spoke about the impact ITEN has had on their ventures. See the virtual session here.
You can also find valuable resources on ITEN’s website. Download the 2019 Impact Report. And access a geographical map of the different resources available in the St. Louis tech ecosystem.
Genera is pleased to recommend ITEN to other small business owners.
“It’s the pride they take in helping entrepreneurs and making that a strong win for everyone,” she says. “You can’t compare it to anything else.”