By Amanda Ellen Nicola Jojo
PROPELLED by the innate curiosity of life, Tapiwa Guzha is a scientist raising the bar in the ice cream manufacturing industry. He is the founder of Tapi tapi, which has been described as a place to discover, enjoy and celebrate African food as well as culture through approachable scoops of handcrafted, small batch ice cream.
In an interview Tapiwa Guzha shared how he followed his curiosity by blending science, art and creativity to establish his brand.
Because of fear of failing in business, most entrepreneurs abide by the old cliché, “Curiosity killed the cat.” However, the story of Guzha is evidence that for an entrepreneur, curiosity channels out-of-the-box thinking as it opens the mind to new possibilities.
By virtue of being a scientist with a special focus on molecular biology and plant biotechnology, Guzha blended his curiosity with science, art and creativity to establish his brand.
“I was pushed by my curiosity about life and also trying to understand things so those are probably my biggest assets, I suppose the purpose of the work that is to help the people of the continent to celebrate their identity, history and cultural background through traditional flavours.
“The name Tapi Tapi was inspired by an advert of Sun Jam (brand name for a Zimbabwean mixed fruit jam) which had the catch phrase Nhapitapi ye sunjam and Tuku’s song called Nhapitapi kutapira and those two sources were echoed in my head since I was a kid it made sense to use the name for a sweet treat company” Guzha told this publication.
Guzha was raised in Harare but because of studies, he moved to Cape Town, South Africa and he is currently based there.
“I grew up in Zimbabwe, I was born in Harare and went to school in different parts of the country. During holidays, we spent a lot of time eating traditional cuisine, wild fruit, taking care of animals so I kind of grew up in a communal set up with lot of cousins so there will be multigenerational members of the family within the same household and the year I turned 18 I moved to South Africa to study at the University of Cape town
“I studied molecular biology and I pursued that for 14 years that is one undergrad degree, one honours degree and one PhD all in molecular biology and a post degree of 4 years in plant biotechnology. That is when I decided to explore a new avenue that is different. I decided to divert from the classic academic structure thus taking food as an educational tool,” Guzha said.
Since time immemorial, novelty is one dominating characteristic of innovation, thus for Guzha his motive was not to capitalise on his ice cream making idea.
He said: “I have always been interested in making and sharing things. Entrepreneurship is an extension of that which is something I get paid for it but also I wasn’t particularly motivated into entrepreneurship as I was creating a new system or using a different approach to educating and empowering people.
“Through different tools so when I had started a business I realised that I had started an educational space that had to fund itself as a business. So I was just trying to find a different approach of teaching people and sharing while learning as well without having to rely on European standard of the academic workspace.”
Guzha goes against the tide that business models are a prerequisite for building a successful organisation.
“I really don’t have a model system, I do what makes sense to me and what feels true,” he emphasized.
Piloting the corridors of entrepreneurship as a foreigner was easy for Guzha since he holds a permanent residence.
“The bureaucratic aspect of it was easy. What can be a little difficult was navigating the legal requirements and expectations of maintaining the business e.g. labour laws, tax laws.
“The community received the work in different ways there isn’t any particular reaction or response ways some people were really excited, positive and keen and welcoming…some people were very sceptical, dismissive, and belittling and generally uninterested about the whole thing,” he said.
Speaking on lessons drawn from his entrepreneurial journey, he admitted that isolation is inevitable when one is running a business.
“I have learnt how isolating entrepreneurship can be it has been very difficult to create personal relationships there has been a lot of casualties in this experience and I think it’s something important that people ought to know before committing to this kind of work.
“It’s never ending especially on working hours, so you have to make time for yourself and those relationships but ultimately you are going to lose a lot of personal time and connections,” he pointed out.
The phrase “Jack of all trades” is most likely to raise negative meanings but for Guzha it is somewhat a compliment because he is holding a solid grasp of many concepts. For that reason his work ethic centred on balancing all his skills.
“I do not live for work and I do not live for this project. It does not describe who I am. It is currently what I am doing. I am making more effort in not allowing this to be the only thing that I do with my time. I do art, calligraphy, sex education, visual art, textile design…there is a bunch of things that I do.
“In terms of values I focus of keeping a diverse experience of life. I do not want one particular identity. I ultimately want to contribute positively to the world and minimise damage that I want inflict on the world which we inevitably do, but will try to minimize it,” he said.
He further admitted that he is not much of a planner, he is more rooted in living in the moment as a result he does not have a formulated plan of staying ahead of the business curve.
“I really don’t try to stay ahead in the world, I do my own thing, I don’t compare myself to my peers. We are so used to the idea of competitors, market share and fighting for space in the world while the world is so expansive so I just focus with what I want to do with my working my time. For me there is no need to stay ahead of the curve, there is no curve,” he said.
The cutting edge entrepreneur acknowledged the fact that we are living in filled with uncertainty thereby making it difficult to operate a business.
When it comes to role models, Guzha is of the standpoint that inspiration can be derived from anybody.
“I think it’s very easy to find role models in everybody because they have a perspective and opinion that is very useful, set of skills, knowledge, wisdom that we can all benefit from.
“I enjoy listening to most people’s perspective and opinion because it’s going to unique and different from mine. So I do not have one or two isolated role models. So I look to our humanity as collective, plants, animals, nature and the world around us. There are so many inspiration, amazing creatures,” he remarked.