A VolunteerAfrica Team Member Reflects on the First Week in Kenya
By Erika Gyllstrom Analyst, Power & Utilities, Corporate Banking April 13, 2016 10:00 AM
Our first week in Nakuru has been an intense, eye-opening and fantastic time. Although Nakuru is completely different from London, it was easier than expected to adapt as people are extremely welcoming, almost everyone speaks English (my Swahili is still a bit rusty) and our partner organization Balloon Ventures is doing a great job in showing us the ropes.
We were thrown in at the deep end from the very start, being sent out in teams of four to originate, test and develop ideas for a new venture aiming to help local business in Nakuru. Equipped with only minimal insight into the dynamics of entrepreneurship in Kenya, and Nakuru in particular, we set out to interview as many local entrepreneurs as possible to understand their businesses and the challenges they face. This culminated in suggestions to set up a local entrepreneurship magazine, a purchase aggregation service, and a combined mentorship and supply chain management program. Perhaps most importantly, this exercise made us think deeply about what transferable skills we possess that would be most helpful to small businesses here.
After being split into teams of three, we first got to meet our allocated entrepreneurs on the third day after spending the first days on the business idea and training. Both of the entrepreneurs allocated to our team have great stories. Their businesses have grown at warp speed after having been set up only about two years ago, and they have great ambitions. However, both are facing challenges in scaling up their business. Apolo produces and sells cow feed mineral supplements which greatly outperform the main competition in terms of quality, but he has a substantial working capital and cash management issues which makes it difficult to fulfil large orders. Solomon owns a print shop and M-Pesa agency next to Rvist University and while business is thriving, he requires significant capex to expand and struggles to prioritize in the face of limited funds.
The work has been much more intense than expected. Each day we visit one or both entrepreneurs for hours-long discussions, testing of ideas and client visits, and then spend long evenings on e.g. analyzing financials, brainstorming, and constructing Minimum Viable Products and questionnaires for data collection and market testing. Achieving all we want to do together with these businesses in only four weeks is going to be a challenge, but one we are excited to take on.