US investors seek joint ventures with local SMEs

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Zank (second left) and BDC officials pose for a picture with US and local investors. / Appolonia Uwanziga

Local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have an opportunity to secure funding, as well as network and form partnerships and joint ventures with investors from the US at the ongoing annual Rwanda Investment Conference in Kigali.

Heath Cardie, who led the US business delegation of 16 investors, said SMEs should be given more support because “they are drivers of any economy.”

“We want to work with local SMEs to help them improve their operations and business practices so that they can grow and create more jobs and also become more profitable and sustainable enterprises,” Cardie said on Wednesday.

He added that though Rwanda is a small country, it has huge potential. This was during the opening of the investment forum that attracted over 300 participants, including business operators, government officials and foreign investors.

Cardie said the US investors were particularly interested in sectors like construction, agriculture, information and communication technology, finance, transport, manufacturing, among others.

The annual forum was organised by Business Development Centre (BDC) under the theme, “Fueling the growth of SMEs”.

Brad Hawkins, the chief executive officer of US-based Widefi Networks, said the Americans were interested in Rwanda because of its strong economic performance, investor-friendly policies and good leadership, adding that the country offers US firms many opportunities.

He said the forum was an opportunity for them to meet the local business community and to make strong partnership that will benefit both parties.

Speaking at the event, Olivia Zank, an advisor to the Minister of Trade, Industry and East African Community Affairs, said Rwanda is creating opportunities for local investors to make strong partnership with their international counterparts, including those from the US.

Zank said the government will continue to ensure a conducive business environment, and support investors, particularly the country’s SME sector.

Funding for SMEs

BDC operational director Patrice Habinshuti said there is need to help local investors to grow besides attracting foreign investments.

Habinshuti added that by the end of the conference today, SMEs with promising and scalable projects would be selected for funding, ranging from Rwf4 million to Rwf16 million to expand their businesses.

“During the first phase of the initiative last year, over Rwf125 million was injected in SMEs by foreign investors,” Habinshuti added.

Patrick Dufitimana, managing director for PAJO Group, said the conference will also provide them a platform to network and explore new markets for local products.

The initiative will go a long way in helping small businesses access much-needed finance to expand and become sustainable and more successful. However, local firms at the forum said poor decision-making, and lack of technical skills were still hurting the SME sector.