In 2011, Jonathan Iyandemye attended the Babson Entrepreneurial and Leadership Academy, a one week workshop in which participants received training and mentorship on such issues as; how to move from ideas to actions, how to start a small business, and how to grow it.
Armed with the skills received from the workshop, and with the knowledge from playing with his brother’s computer, Iyandemye started a small computer training class with his brother’s computer, utilizing the dining room of his parents’ home in Nyabugogo as a classroom.
“I figured out that for me to achieve the big dream of owning my own company, I had to start small and use what I already had on the table,” he said, admitting that the early days were tough and scary,
“I had no choice but to endure since I considered it the first step towards achieving my dreams. I had to go to some wealthy families, coax their children and have them come to our house to study. Many times, they instead ended up laughing at me after noticing how unsophisticated the class was, but I never felt offended. Rather, to show the practicality of my training class, I tried to give the best I had to my first 2 students and that proved to my other clients that I wasn’t kidding”.
With his track record now proven, it was only a matter of days before clients from the neighborhood started streaming into Iyandemye’s classroom, seeking various computer-related services like printing and photocopying. His classroom too was growing, and by the time he clocked two months in business, the class boasted ten students.
“I realized that our dining room was no longer able to accommodate my class, which forced me to rent a nearby house to use for classes. I erected a banner above the door, opened a bank account to which students could pay their tuition, and embarked on serious classes,” he narrated.
The 19 year-old is all praises for his bold initiative.
“The business offered me more than I had expected. It helped me with some school needs for my senior 5 and 6, helped me increase my computer knowledge and offered me different life lessons including persistence. Moreover, since I had to focus on my studies too, I trained my two sisters and had them run the business for me, to allow me time for my studies. Since then, the business started to help my whole family and it is now one of the sources of income for my siblings.
I am now grateful that I had a chance to do business and see what it looks like, I am more grateful that I made people computer literate and even more grateful that I created employment for myself and my siblings. I am not much involved in the business now because I have to focus on my studies, but I hope to continue and to create more businesses and initiatives in the future”.
After completing his A’level at College Saint Andre in Nyamirambo, Iyandemye approached Bridge2Rwanda, a local NGO, after hearing about educational opportunities offered by the organization. Currently, he is one of the beneficiaries of Bridge2Rwanda’s Scholar’s Program, a gap year program that helps best Rwandan students gain scholarships in the US, Canada, and Europe.
Once a student completes high school, they can apply at www.b2rtrainingcenter.com, and when selected, spend 8 months preparing for the Toefl and SAT, exams that are required by American colleges as a prerequisite for admission for people like Iyandemye.
Early this year, he was privileged to be one of 30 students selected from a total of 1200 applicants. His dream, if all goes well, is to gain admission to the prestigious Havard University in the US.
As a 19 year-old entrepreneur and Bridge2Rwanda scholar, Iyandemye’s profile can only grow bigger. In more ways than one, he already bears some kind of corporate social responsibility, giving back to fellow students and youths from the knowledge pool he has so far amassed.
In Nyabugogo where he stays and runs his computer bureau, he also spares time for voluntary work, most notably teaching English and Mathematics to children in a home for former street children.
During the just concluded Global Entrepreneurship Week, he was one of the facilitators for “My Big Dream”, an event organized by bridge2Rwanda. Held at the RDB boardroom at Telecom House in Kacyiru. It was an event where Iyandemye and fellow scholars trained high school students on the theme of “taking the first step in your journey to achieve your dreams”.
“We also discussed how we can think creatively and create community building projects and income generating activities. I was one of the main organizers of the event,” he adds.
According to him, entrepreneurship is not all about the money.
“One doesn’t need much money to start a business and become an entrepreneur. Rather, one needs an entrepreneurial mindset. One needs to identify the problem he sees in society and to try to use what he has to address that problem. For me, an entrepreneur is a person who sees opportunities in obstacles, and uses them to create an activity that benefits himself and the society.”
He is all for self-employment, as opposed to seeking jobs elsewhere, and says:
“For me, the main benefit of being self-employed is the flexibility and development of one’s critical thinking. A self-employed person has total control of his business. He can change it whenever he wants, and introduce new products and innovations to grow his business. This makes him think critically and act enthusiastically since the success of his business lies on his shoulder”.
To his fellow youths, the message is simple: “They should take advantage of every opportunity. Our government is doing a lot to help the youth develop. The free and easy access to education, the ease of getting loans to start businesses and the conducive business environment are some of the opportunities they have to get the most out of. It is for us to create the future we want to live in. Therefore, we, young people, should dream big and work hard, use our strength to achieve those dreams”.
To the government and other stakeholders interested in youth development, he says: “I think the government has done a lot to help its people, including me. However, I would request the government to provide practical entrepreneurship education. Many people have entrepreneurship knowledge but lack enough practical skills. I would also request the government to provide a special way to help young entrepreneurs in terms of connecting them with investors,” he said.
Iyandemye believes that the circumstances of his upbringing greatly shaped him into the budding entrepreneur he is today:
“I was raised in a neighborhood in Kigali known as Karuruma, in Jali sector, Gasabo District. I grew up with 6 siblings, and just after the Genocide, my Parents adopted some children of our relatives thus creating a big family of 12 people. For me, life wasn’t very hard, not because I could get whatever I needed, but because I was always satisfied with what I had, to love my siblings and to share whatever I had no matter how little it was.”
Like he mentioned already, Iyandemye’s life-long dream is that of owning and running a big company of his own.
“I hope to become a good leader and change-maker in Rwanda and in Africa. I hope to build an engineering company that focuses on energy and water projects, thus addressing two immediate challenges of my country. The dearth of water and electricity infrastructure in Africa at present are challenges that require a collective response.”