EARLY this month, some Rwandan women entrepreneurs attended a trade mission in Turkey organised by Rwanda Active Businessmen Association (Rwaba) in conjunction with Confederation of Turkish Businessmen and Industrialists. The women entrepreneurs were among 314 women from 39 African countries.
Angelique Uwamaliya Gatarayiha
Gatarayiha is a mother of two and runs Eden Events and Décor Company popularly known as Chez Angelik.
Tell us about your experience during the TUSKON conference
I was immensely challenged by two factors. First, Turkish people are very hardworking and they start young. Secondly, businesses are family oriented. It is not a matter of waking up in the morning and starting a business. The type of business they engage in usually has family history to it.
What lessons did you learn?
I admired their ambitious nature and innovativeness. If you want a business to grow and be successful, a person needs to be courageous enough to invest in it and constantly try to find better ways to improve service delivery.
What do you think is necessary in starting any business venture?
You must have passion for what you want to do. This is important because even when the business is not doing well, the passion a person has for their work will keep the business going. Secondly, an individual must be determined to start a business. Many people have dreams of starting but they don’t have the determination. Lastly, every person needs capital when starting a business. Women need to be ambitious and understand that they can also make it in the business industry.
How did you market your business?
The first marketing strategy is to show that you are good at what you do. You can’t market your own business if you don’t know what you are attempting to do. Secondly, it is important to use the media and last is word of mouth. People are the strongest method of marketing but when you make a small mistake, they might be the first to pull you down. Everyone has to be careful in business and do it well, and then the marketing will also come easily.
What motivated you to join this business?
I never thought about joining this business until I realised that I was always helping my friends when it came to selecting their wedding gowns and decorating wedding venues. Later, I decided to capitalise on my ideas and start a career in this business.
Jessie Kalisa Umutoni
Umutoni is the managing director of G-MART Limited which is a school chalk manufacturing company that started in 2010.
Why manufacture chalk?
My parents were teachers and I always saw a lot of chalk at home. Secondly, I like doing unique things, so when I set out to start my business, I talked to teachers who told me that most of their equipment is imported. With my love for manufacturing, I realised that chalk-manufacturing was an opportunity that I had to take to achieve my dream of manufacturing something unique.
How have you built your business?
It hasn’t been an easy journey. I had a dream of being an entrepreneur since 2005 and whenever I would get leave at work, I would spend my days in factories learning how things are manufactured, how factories are run and studying the market. For any business to succeed, a person has to first learn about the business and the market they are targeting.
What was your impression of other African Women entrepreneurs who attended the conference?
It was a positive picture. African women are coming up and it was a relief to know that I’m not alone. Seeing women get out of their comfort zones and venture into unfamiliar territories gave me more courage and strength to engage in other projects. I want to grow a company that is diverse and international.
Most participants were impressed about how Turkish businesses are family oriented, why don’t we see more of this in Rwanda or in Africa in general?
They value relationships and we don’t. All we do is live to criticise, be jealous and look for loop-holes in another person’s business. We waste our energy asking the wrong questions instead of trying to learn from them.
What can be done to get more women in business?
Our Private Sector needs to work hard. In Turkey, their Private Sector goes in all corners of the country looking for entrepreneurs which ours doesn’t do. Rwanda Development Board is doing a great job by easing how to start a business but PSF should also come in to help RDB.
How have you been able to market your business?
I still have a problem in penetrating the market. There are issues with the Procurement Act which is still relied on that makes it difficult for people with one source product to make it in business.
But the government and other stakeholders know our problem and they are finding ways around it. We have gone to schools to market our products but the majority of schools are government schools which have to go through government appointed suppliers.
Nyirambibi is an interior designer and specialist in events management.
She is the owner of “La Ceremoniale” boutique located at Rubangura House.
What inspired you join interior design and events management?
I liked organising events and getting involved in designing from way back. Whenever most of friends wanted someone to help them organise an event or decorate their house, they would call me. Eventually, I also started looking at it as a career move. The confidence people had in me motivated me to venture in interior design and events management.
How have you been able to market your business?
When I first set-out to do this business, I put adverts on radio but eventually word of mouth has proven to be the best marketing tool. When you do a good job for people, they will market your business to other people. It is important to do a good job, if you want to maintain and get more clients.
What was your experience when you attended the conference in Turkey?
We were all there to share ideas and make connections that can develop business ideas.
The organisers made sure people with similar businesses met to discuss how they can help each other grow. The Turkish are hardworking people and they want to learn a lot in terms of business, which I think is their strongest point. Their market is so wide and they have quality products and the majority of their clients are Europeans.
What are some of the business lessons you learnt?
The first lesson is to have or deal in quality products. They have a lot of quality products that can’t be compared to Chinese products once they are put on the market. Another lesson is quantity. It is amazing how they have quality products and in big quantities. You realise that as a businessperson you should endeavour to have enough stock if you want to maintain clients and gain their trust.
Is there a secret you employed to successfully grow your business?
I can’t say that there’s any secret I used in growing my business. I started from below and strived to do a good job. I have a good relationship with my clients because I have done good work for them. That is what has helped me grow my business.
What advice can you give to women who are in business or want to start a business venture?
The most important thing is to be ambitious and hardworking. At times, business can be rough but all a person needs is patience. Secondly, people shouldn’t listen to pessimists or individuals who make business sound like rocket-science. For example, you will always hear people say how they started their business when they already had a lot of money but here I am and I didn’t start with a lot of money.
Money has never started a business, enthusiasm does. After enthusiasm, you need to be honest in your business dealings. When a person works well with the bank, clients, and employees the business grows because all these factors contribute to its growth. I relied on these factors while starting my business. I was an employee but I started slowly and eventually I started doing business full-time.
She owns a company that deals in stationary and electronics among other things.
What lessons did you learn in Turkey?
The biggest lesson I learnt is to be aggressive, ambitious and courageous enough to take on other business ventures. I learnt that it’s important to study the market we are dealing with. It is important when deciding what new venture to invest in. Lastly I learnt how to find clients. In Turkey, people are very hard working. They don’t sit and wait for clients but look for them. The experience was exciting. We were linked with people in the same line of business
Looking at the business environment in Rwanda, how are women fairing at the moment?
They are not at their best but they are doing fine. Women in Rwanda have businesses that are self-sufficient but not yet at the level where they heavily contribute toward the economic development of the country. However, I have hope because the government has given women a strong voice and incentives when it comes to doing business, starting new projects and gaining access to credit.
What advice would you give women who want to join the business industry?
Women tend to lose hope easily when things don’t work out quickly but they need to be patient and persistent. Personally, it was hard for me but I knew that I was dealing with a new territory and as is with everything, it has its ups and downs. I would also like to encourage men to support their partners in business. This helps a person not to easily give up.
How do you market your business?
I always endeavour to sell quality products. For example, if you ask any dealers around for computer accessories, they will bring you here. When people get quality products, they will always refer other people. I also handle tenders and whenever we do a good job that means more market, it usually comes down to offering quality products and services.
When did you start this business and what motivated you to start?
I started in November 2007 after leaving my bank job. I wasn’t making enough and the work was too much. After working for 11 years, I had made enough contacts in the business industry. So I relied on them to help me secure a loan and start my business.