Access to finance remains a major impediment to budding entrepreneurs in their quest to establish startups in Rwanda.
The observation was made during a panel discussion at the opening ceremony of the Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) at the Innovation Village in Kigali, on Monday.
GEW is a celebration of the young innovators and job creators who launch startups that impact their immediate community by driving economic growth and improving human welfare.
During the campaign, which runs annually from November 12 to 18, millions of people from more than 120 countries take part in local, national and global events to encourage people worldwide to celebrate the power of individuals with ideas to drive sustainable economic growth.
Under the topic, “Transformational Entrepreneurship,” panelists discussed the prevailing challenges that emerging entrepreneurs in the country face, while some startups also shared their entrepreneurial journey.
“The biggest challenge that entrepreneurs face is access to finance. The second challenge is lack of managerial skills, which are very important,” explained Natalie Niyonzima, the Managing Director of Inkomoko, a local business incubation centre.
“By offering training, consulting and financial services, we answer key questions like; How do we help the entrepreneur without harming the business? How do we have an entrepreneur working for the business and not in the business? How do we turn an entrepreneur who is purely a technician into a leader? That’s where Inkomoko comes in.”
Also on the panel was Stephen Anthony Rodrigues, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Country Director in Rwanda.
Rodrigues called for prioritisation of financial inclusion across the social spectrum to facilitate flow of capital to budding entrepreneurs.
“Rwanda is number one in Africa in terms of gender balance and that is commendable. However, inclusion should not only be gender focused, but also include persons with disabilities, the youth and other vulnerable groups. We must strive to remove all social, cultural and historical barriers to access to finance.”
Cynthia Liliane Kamikazi, the head of partnerships, gender and women at the African Development Bank called for better legislation that promotes wealth acquisition and creation by women.
“In order for financial institutions to provide finance they need collateral. However, in most African countries our girls and women do not have the right to inherit property. So how then do you make sure that they have the collateral security they need?”
She revealed that the AfDB has been working with different stakeholders to ensure that the necessary legislation is in place:
“We work in partnership with parliamentarians and other stakeholders to ensure that where there are no laws, the laws are provided, and where the laws are already in place, they are implemented.”
“Just like any other thing, it all starts with good governance,” said Patrick Buchana, the CEO of AC Group, a local tech company.
“Self teaching is also very vital, because you spend so much time in the business you don’t have time to take executive courses. Sometimes they are also very expensive. But as an entrepreneur you need to harness the skills that you needed to start because the skills required to start and those needed to run a business are completely different. As a business grows, you need to keep getting better and better.
‘‘You need to do a lot of self planning and get away from the technical day to day running to actually becoming a leader who delegates. At a certain stage in business, the team that you have becomes more important than the financing,” he said.
Buchana also downplayed talk of a skills gap that is dogging local startups;
“The skills gap is there, especially for a company like ours that deals in technology. One thing I noticed is the gap is actually not so big as we think. The biggest challenge we have is that we do not want to collaborate. Our company AC Group does payments, but there are companies that have been doing payments for some time. But we usually rush to get some of the technology from abroad, when sometimes they’re not even compatible, and pay so much.”
In her keynote address, Youth minister Rosemary Mbabazi highlighted the government’s oversight role in creating a conducive entrepreneurial environment in the country, and pledged its continued support:
“Government has done a lot in terms of policy formulation, from EDPRSI to EDPRS II, we’ve been talking about youth employment and empowerment of young people.”