Nature or nurture: the rise of budding entrepreneurs

In my previous article, I have talked about the potentially transformative force of youth and, in particular, university entrepreneurship for Rwanda’s economy.  All too often, however, such arguments become vulnerable without concrete examples of young people actually launching and running start-up businesses.
Some of the winners of the University Innovation competition. The New Times / Courtesy
Some of the winners of the University Innovation competition. The New Times / Courtesy

In my previous article, I have talked about the potentially transformative force of youth and, in particular, university entrepreneurship for Rwanda’s economy.  All too often, however, such arguments become vulnerable without concrete examples of young people actually launching and running start-up businesses.

Perhaps even more importantly, when showcased, these individuals can provide practical examples and inspiration to scores of other aspiring young entrepreneurs.

Idea of bags

Germaine Uwabareze, 24, is the brains behind the dynamic accessories start-up Afribag Ltd.

Uwabareze is a holder of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Physiotherapy from the Kigali Health Institute (KHI). It was whilst studying at KHI that Germaine first came up with the idea for Afribag.  “I came to the university campus one day with a new bag and all my friends were asking about where I’d got it from and how they could get one too”, she recounts. “I spent the next few days looking for similar bags to recommend but I couldn’t find any that matched mine and my friends’ tastes.”

Armed with this finding, she took the first step towards creating Afribag by designing a bag for her friends and invested just Rwf5,000 in buying fabric and hiring someone to manufacture three bags.

Each bag sold for Rwf5,000 and Afribag was already a profitable enterprise.

Since then, Afribag has gone from strength to strength and currently employs five full time workers to help design and manufacture bags.  Afribag supplies two local shops in Kigali and in the last year alone has sold over 1,500 bags.

It has not, however, all been smooth sailing.  “Finding and hiring the right people to work with you is a great challenge.  As a young entrepreneur, I had to prove my credibility that I could be relied upon to pay salaries.  Consistency and quality control was another issue.  I started out using different people to make the bags which meant the quality of bag sometimes varied.  I overcame this by taking the decision to hire my own team of female manufacturers that I could rely on to produce the quality I wanted.”

Trust and credibility

On her advice to other young entrepreneurs, Uwabareze insists that trust and credibility is key. “As a young entrepreneur, it is even more important that you keep your promises to customers and suppliers.” Moreover, she urges those considering entrepreneurship to just give it a go and take the risk.  “I only had a small initial investment of Rwf5,000.  In some cases, that’s all it takes.”

As for the future, Uwabareze plans to create an online shop for Afribag to start exporting abroad alongside expanding her local vendor network by targeting higher end shops in local hotels. 

She is considering the possibility of continuing her studies but the focus for now is on running her business and working as a Business Development Associate for H20 Venture Partners, an agricultural focused venture capital firm based in Kigali and the UK.

Printing idea

Another youthful entrepreneur is Jessie Gakwandi, 23, who is a recent computer science graduate from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).

Gakwandi first considered entrepreneurship as an option after attending training events run by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the African Innovation Prize (AIP) in July last year.

It was during one of the idea generation sessions of AIP’s ‘Rwanda Entrepreneurship Week’ that the idea of UniCopy cropped up.

“In Rwandan universities, there are no printing centres dedicated to students.  Staff (members) have priorities so during busy work periods, students are sometimes forced to take a bus to town just to print something.  This is expensive and time consuming.  UniCopy will help solve this problem by providing a printing centre for universities and for university students specifically.  Initially, it will be a drop in and email delivery service but in the long run, UniCopy will develop a mobile application that integrates concierge services around existing mobile money transfer systems to provide an end to end document support service.”   

Gakwandi recently won Rwf1 million in the African Innovation Prize business plan competition and plans to use these funds to purchase her first printing equipment in order to launch the business at the start of the new academic year in September.

Turning idea into reality

Like Uwabareze, Gakwandi is quick to point out that there are challenges inherent in starting up an own venture.  “The biggest challenge is turning an idea into something tangible.  As well as this, I have an ICT background but to be an entrepreneur, you need to have an understanding of a broad array of new disciplines such as accounting and law.”

Her advice to other young entrepreneurs is, however, simple, “Try out anything you have in mind.  Have something you believe in. It’s not bad to fail, particularly when you are young.”

As for the future, Gakwandi is clear about where she wants to have an impact.  “In 10 years, I will not be the one running my businesses.  I want to develop my businesses and then devote my time to developing initiatives to empower young people.” 

The third upcoming entrepreneur is Francis Bazatsinda, an accountancy student at the School of Finance and Banking (SFB) in Kigali. Bazatsinda, 23, grew up in Uganda but returned to Rwanda for his university studies.

His interest in entrepreneurship developed at an early age, which he attributes this to a longstanding interest in group work, communication and debating where he competed to a national level in Uganda.

“I have always wanted to be a successful businessman since high school.  I don’t want to be working for anyone.  I want to be employing people.”

Such is his passion for entrepreneurship that during his spare time he teaches economics, entrepreneurship and mathematics at a local high school.

Bazatsinda’s current venture is an idea he developed with fellow SFB students Issa Ntambara, Nathan Muramira and Robert Karamuzi.

“We looked at the local student market and asked the question, what does it need?” he explains. “We wanted to develop a business that could be run alongside our studies.  With these two factors in mind, we saw an opportunity to develop an on campus restaurant.  After some deliberations, we decided to call it Hot Dish Restaurant,” he recalls.

 “The biggest challenge so far has been having the self belief that our business idea was good.  Also we had to think carefully about how to differentiate ourselves.”

Despite winning one of the African Innovation Prize’s Rwf1 million awards, Bazatsinda and the team are seeking further funding to transform their idea into reality.

The issue of limited funding sources is “an obstacle,” Bazatsinda admits, but he believes they would be successful in raising further funding. 

In the short term, the Hot Dish team along with other students at SFB have developed a proactive solution Formby forming an entrepreneurs association where each member invests some money on a regular basis that can be invested in business ideas created and chosen by the members.

After winning the African Innovation Prize and taking the first strides towards launching Hot Dish, Bazatsinda urges other young entrepreneurs to “have self belief and confidence from the outset.  Always look out for opportunities, take advantage of trainings and be courageous.”

Last but certainly not least is our youngest entrepreneur David Karuranga, 22, who has just completed his first year studies at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) where he is studying economics and management.

Karuranga, like Bazatsinda, attended his primary and secondary school studies in Uganda but chose to return to Rwanda for his university education.

It was during his secondary school that he first discovered his passion for entrepreneurship, “My headmaster was an entrepreneur.  He started the school from nothing.”

Alongside this, Karuranga cites Eugene Nyagahene, the founder of Tele-10 Holding Group which runs Radio 10, as a key inspiration during his regular speaking session to students at NUR.

Mushrooms production

Looking to turn this entrepreneurial dream into a reality, Karuranga joined student groups such as JCI Rwanda at NUR and entered the African Innovation Prize.

Around this time, he was working for a mushroom producer and after a short time realised there was an opportunity to set up his own enterprise known as Kigali Mushroom Production Ltd to produce and sell mushrooms

“I acquired a small piece of land back home in the Eastern Province and set about developing my action plan.”

Kigali Mushroom Production will start by producing the local staple ‘oyster’ mushrooms and aims to employ and teach local farmers to sell to the local Rwandan market.

Karuranga explains that his business also has a social goal. “I want to help Rwandans improve their health through the consumption of mushrooms and I want to help farmers improve their economic livelihood.”

With the Rwf1 million that he won through the African Innovation Prize, he is investing in inputs and building the infrastructure required to produce high quality mushrooms.

As well as selling to the local markets, the plan is to sell to hotel chains and in the future introduce more varieties of mushrooms into the market.

Karuranga thinks his biggest challenge will be “fully understanding and penetrating the market whilst also eventually getting people to change their mindset about mushrooms and extending their consumption habits.”

His advice to other young entrepreneurs is discerning.  “Look at what the government is planning for the country, look for the things that people need and then be innovative and creative.  Get involved in entrepreneurship clubs, trainings and competitions.  It’s somewhere to start. 

“Furthermore, being a student is an advantage because you are not seen directly as a threat and from my experience; people are more willing to help you get started.”

Like all the other young entrepreneurs mentioned so far, Karuranga sees his future in entrepreneurship.  “I want to be a highly successful entrepreneur.  In five years, time I’d like Kigali Mushroom Production to be at least a medium sized enterprise.”

Alex Handy is co-founder and Frustle of the African Innovation prize.


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