Winners of Akilah’s entrepreneurship fund share the inspiration behind their projects

Entrepreneurship competitions are one of the ways that stakeholders use to help improve skills of start-ups as well as encourage other people to join the sector that is central to any economy.
The winners pose with dummy cheques for their cash prizes. / Francis Byaruhanga
The winners pose with dummy cheques for their cash prizes. / Francis Byaruhanga

Entrepreneurship competitions are one of the ways that stakeholders use to help improve skills of start-ups as well as encourage other people to join the sector that is central to any economy.

On this front, Akilah Institute for Women conducts annual contests for its final year students to promote innovation and support outstanding business ideas and projects. The initiative also seeks to support the country’s efforts geared at improving entrepreneurship skills of women and girls and therefore, empower them to start and operate businesses profitably.


Last week, the institute held the third edition of Akilah Entrepreneurship Fund Competition (AEF) and the winners and other participants shared their experiences with Business Times as young business women and start-ups. Six business ideas and projects were pitched by individual students and Pamela Bigirimana’s micro-lending business project emerged top.


Bigirimana won a Rwf2 million cash prize, while Belise Karangwa, the first runner-up bagged Rwf1.5 million for ‘First Class Shoes’ project, and Ella Stella Ishimwe’s U-Connect, a website that links the secondary school finalists to private universities went with Rwf1 million.


Business Times caught up with three winners who shared their business experiences and tips.

For Pamela Bigirimana, the lending project at Akilah was born out of the need to provide micro loans to fellow students, especially those with emergencies, given the fact that the institute has no co-operative that provides such a service. “I thought this was a virgin area to exploit. The project started last year with the team of four and we got Rwf100,000 credit facility to kick-start it. By the end of the year we had made Rwf150,000 as profits, which inspired me to continue with the project,” she explains.

“We give students small cash to handle emergencies or other needs. We lend from between Rwf20,000 and Rwf100,000 at 20-25 per cent interest rates, repayable in one month,” she says.

The venture has since May this year disbursed Rwf1 million worth of loans to 26 students, fetching Rwf150,000 in profit, she adds. Bigirimana says they are looking to register the four member co-operative venture “so that we operate without any limitations.

“Winning the Rwf2 million cash prize is an instrumental ‘push factor’ that I believe will help us to fulfill our entrepreneurial dreams,” she adds.

Belise Karangwa says her ‘First Class Shoes’ venture was inspired by the increment of taxes on second hand shoes by government and the push to encourage Rwandans to consume local products under the Made-in-Rwanda initiative.

The young entrepreneur says since many Rwandans cannot afford new shoes, she came in to provide high quality and affordable alternative shoes.

“I decided to start up a small business for affordable but quality locally-made shoes and take advantage of the gap left by ban on cagua,” the 24-year-old explains.

So, I turned what many considered a huge challenge into an opportunity and profit, she adds.

Karangwa says she sold 270 pairs of shoes last year during the pilot phase of the project and earned Rwf400,000.

Ella Stella Ishimwe, 21, is the brain behind U-Connect, a website that connects high school leavers with private local universities. She says the inspiration behind the venture is the poor marketing strategies employed by some of the private universities and what she calls inefficiencies in student admission processes.

The young innovator wants to help universities to improve their communication (on the courses) and fully exploit their potential.

“I have, therefore, come to bridge that gap as the website will help link students and universities,” she says.

Other contestants

Shella Nyirindekwe, 22, showcased a make–up dealership project. She says entrepreneurship competitions are essential to sharpen skills of innovative youth, especially women and girls.

Winning tips for young entrepreneurs

Bigirimana advises potential entrepreneurs and start-up operators to get mentors, arguing that it is very essential for one to be guided and advised by industry leaders and experts to make it in business.

“Everything needs mentoring, thus technical know-how very is necessary in business. Without advice on how to do things, success in company creation and operation would be hard to attain,” she says.

Ornella Igiraneza, 22, one of the contestants, pitched an events management idea under Klamior Events Services. Igiraneza advises the youth to follow their heart and passion when selecting business ideas. “To be successful in business, one should be passionate about what they are doing besides working hard,” she says.

“Otherwise, you can easily give up when you face small challenges and quit if you are not passionate about the project,” she says.

Igiraneza pitches her events management idea to the panel of judges. Francis Byaruhanga.

Karangwa urges start-ups to always do research, saying it helps one understand their market trends as well as learn new things to improve their business.

She says successful entrepreneurs are those that plan and take risks, adding that one does not need a lot of money to start a business. Knowing your financial capacity and market needs is also essential, she adds. “I don’t focus on making huge profits but serving the general good. For instance, I sell a pair of shoes that most traders vend at Rwf30,000 at Rwf25,000 because I know that a big number of my customers cannot afford expensive ones.”

Ishimwe says for one to excel in business they should venture into areas that are in line with their talent, arguing that this makes it easy for them to implement the enterprise and make it sustainable.

“I decided to start a website that focuses on advertising because I am passionate about marketing and media. Therefore, it will not be hard for me to deal with the challenges I may encounter as a start-up.”

Nyirindekwe advises youth entrepreneurs to focus on niche markets to take advantage of comparative advantages like selling Rwanda’s unique culture, including artifacts and music.

1498722589judges listening to the contestants at the event.Francis Byaruhanga.
The panel of judges listen to contestants.

College officials speak out

Meanwhile, Lisa Doherty, the academic director at Akilah Institute for Women, has said the initiative seeks to support youth and women, especially those that do not have capital to implement their ideas or scale up their projects.

She is optimistic that the competition will help gloom more women entrepreneurs and impact Rwandan women in the long-run. More women and girls will be empowered to start and run enterprises, which will also reduce the number of unemployed girls and women, she added.

Stanley Mukasa, an entrepreneurship instructor at Akilah Institute for Women, said the initiative will have an impact on the Rwandan society in terms of creation of jobs, reducing unemployment among youth especially females, boosting the Made–in–Rwanda drive, as well as reducing the importation of goods from abroad and increasing cash flow, among others.

“It helps students to practice what they learn in theory. The competition focuses on final year student with bankable projects that impact the masses,” he added.

Akilah Entrepreneurship Fund Competition targets viable business plans with the capacity to expand, employ more youth and become sustainable and, hence creating positive social impact.

Subscribe to The New Times E-Paper

You want to chat directly with us? Send us a message on WhatsApp at +250 788 310 999    


Follow The New Times on Google News