A few years ago, many people associated Entrepreneurs with people who had multiple years of formal employment behind them and had decided to venture into business. However the tide is changing in Rwanda with young people taking center stage in business and starting their own companies.
Many of them are ambitious, smart, curious and fearless. They take on risks to transform their incredible business ideas into profitable and feasible enterprises.
The fact that Rwanda has a predominantly young population has seen most of them become shrewd and creative thereby making their mark on entrepreneurship in the country.
The emerging business community of young people who are in their 20s and early 30s seem to have defied pursuing employment and prefer to be job creators and employers. They exploit opportunities and are continually building on the success and progress the country has registered in the past 22 years.
The youth are taking the initiative to invest their innovative energy in diverse sectors and trades including information communication technology, financial services, Media, service industry, the creative sector and agriculture among others.
Notable among these young entrepreneurs is Ephraim Rwamwenge. At 22, he is Chief executive officer of Rwa Business Group, a Rwandan based conglomerate operating in commodity trading, ICT, venture capitalism and financial services
Rwamwenge pursued Chartered Management Accounting at university before starting his business at 17. He started his business venture with $1,000 which he borrowed from a family friend and his parents.
‘I used the relationship I shared with the individual to ask for the investment and luckily they saw it as a chance to invest in a young person’s life.’ he said.
Rwamwenge is the Sole owner of Rwa business group and owns majority of the business’ subsidiaries. Currently he employs 32 permanent and pensionable workers and between 100-800 part-time workers depending on workload and projects being undertaken.
Rwamwenge admits that he has made some business decisions that have 60% of the time backfired because they at times may not be fully informed or well researched.
‘I think by far the worst business decisions in my business career revolve around the people I hired. The business is the people and once that element lacks it becomes hard to achieve anything sustainable even with all the money in the world,” says the Chief of Rwa business group.
What inspired them?
Patrick Buchana, a Rwandan in his early 20s is the Chief Executive Officer of AC Group, a firm engaged in provision of a cashless payment system for public transport.
His firm enables bus companies in Rwanda to shift from a cash based system to a cashless system where only a card is required to pay for services. AC Group has inked several partnership agreements with world leading brands and operates across the continent.
Buchana says he was inspired by the liberation history of Rwanda and seeks to honor the liberators who sacrificed to liberate and develop the nation. He says it’s upon the youth now to challenge themselves and think outside the box to further upgrade the country.
‘When you are young, you are more energetic, can take risks and harbor sufficient passion to navigate successfully in entrepreneurship. One needs to better themselves and be determined to achieve more than is already in place,” the youthful Businessman said.
Rwamwenge on the other hand says he was inspired by a close friend early on not to embrace an average life or mediocrity. Having been raised in a family of entrepreneurs also helped condition him to take on without hesitation the competitive world of business.
‘I knew I had to make something of myself and make a difference in my community . I knew that my ideas could be significant and positively impact my people whom I am very passionate about. That drove me to push myself to be better every day.’ he said.
Buchana insists that potential entrepreneurs should realise that capital comes last. He explains that it’s smarter to source for capital after one has extensively researched and had their business plan clearly spelt down.
“Capital is important but it’s not everything in business. When you are well prepared, have your product ready and have extensively carried out a market research, then it is much easier to obtain funds from money lending institutions or investors.”
“Many people fail to exploit funding opportunities because they don’ formulate their business plans and hence investors are reluctant to fund their business ideas, because they are not assured of its viability,” the AC Group CEO says.
Although he admits that getting capital to start a business is difficult, Rwamwenge advises youth to look within their networks and learn to establish and maintain good business relationships.
“One doesn’t need to start with large sums of money, instead even the little capital in place can be capitalized on and diligently used to groom and grow any business venture.” he said.
The Chairman of Rwa Business group also emphasises that young potential entrepreneurs should not expect to rely on hand outs. He cautions that despite the fact that the Rwandan government and policy makers have in more ways than one favored and protected young entrepreneurs, they still need to prove their credibility and worth to other business stakeholders.
“The business community includes private investors, lending institutions among others. These institutions don’t care about your age, in fact being young, you have a lot more to prove why they should entrust by lending you money. Therefore you have to work hard and smart and not expect a financial walk over,” Rwamwenge says.
Buchana says that in the initial stages of starting his enterprise, he faced many challenges but they were ironed out by a pilot study phase conducted before the launch of the business. Through it, potential business bottlenecks and dead-ends were dealt with, understood and avoided after the business was established.
“Right now the challenges are less and easily manageable. The pilot study we conducted gave us valuable lessons regarding our target market and business environment at large. It is true that entrepreneurs learn the hard way most of the time, but it is important for overall productive operation of the business,” says AC Group CEO.
Rwamwenge shares the views and adds that the challenges he faces being an entrepreneur as being both internal and external
“Externally challenges arise out of constantly changing trends, the high degree of competitiveness for customers, capital and capable affordable workers among others.”
“Internally, I face challenges arising from my inexperience with some business matters. I spend every day educating myself how to better my enterprise. I am continually finding ways to be a better person as much as I can be,” explains Rwamwenge.
What characterizes a young entrepreneur?
Buchana emphasizes that a young entrepreneur should be characterized by integrity and passion for what they do.
“Honesty counts a lot for an entrepreneur because they are required to constantly make decisions between right or wrong. One needs to be passionate and believe in what they are doing. Otherwise their investors or staff too will also fail to believe in their initiatives.’ he said.
Rwamwenge told Sunday Times he believes young entrepreneurs should understand that not all their efforts will go according to plan and therefore they should learn patience and persistence.
“A young entrepreneur ought to be stubborn in a sense that they persistently refuse to give up. They should also be humble enough to receive correction and refuse to stay in their comfort zones. The ability to make smart business decisions is also a great character to have as an entrepreneur.’ he said.
Rwamwenge added that he thinks education is important for an entrepreneur even though most may shun it.
“There is no formula to entrepreneurship but school does give you some fundamental principles which are very applicable in ensuring a successful business.’ he added.
Buchana explains that his overall vision is to ensure that all their company’s commuters have the best experience with public transport. He explains that every card holder that uses buses working with AC Group will be able to trust the public transport system to get them where they want to be in the time they estimated.
“We want to make Kigali a smart city. We have had an opportunity to deal with the challenging issue of fare collection. There was a lot of money that was unaccounted for and we are helping to recap.’ say AC Group Chief Executive Officer.
“We are going to build on that and go beyond Rwanda .We already have countries that have called us so by the end of the year our company will see further expansion and growth,” shared Buchana
Rwamwenge believe that personal or professional goals should be big enough to grow into.
“First, I want to transport people through waves, that way we may not even need planes! Secondly, I want to see every day people use very high tech and electronic gadgets to ease the operations of their daily activities and better their living standards. Third, I want to employ over a million Africans in my enterprise.”