For Derekorp (a Uganda-based food processing company) founder and an EMRC-AfDB Project Incubator Award Winner Derek Kwesiga, getting fruits and vegetables from local farmers not only cuts costs, but is good business. “When you’re starting out a business…you’re trying to keep your costs as little as possible, you have so many things on your mind that a lot of times your immediate community doesn’t really factor into some of the decisions that you make business wise,” he says. “That’s when the…key factors [are] making sure that all of the inputs that we use, all of the raw materials are grown in Uganda. We’re trying to keep the value chain that’s in the country.”
Derekorp also benefits with lower overhead costs because it’s not importing raw materials. And it also helps employee morale. “They’re working for someone who has Ugandan interests in mind, you know, who takes that at heart, that I’m not going to abandon them for a better deal down the road, that we’re basically in this together,” he says. “So there’s a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity there as well.”
People in some parts of Africa often say it’s a challenge to hire reliable people, but getting and keeping employees motivated is a main issue for any business anywhere. At Derekorp, workers not only see local raw materials being used, but they also see the end product available in local supermarkets, as the company is not exporting at the moment. “I think that a lot of times if your employees take pride in what they do and it becomes more than just a job to go to in the morning, then you see wonderful outputs from those employees,” he says. “As long as you’re giving the motivation and you’re making a product that you can be proud of, the employees are happy to do so.”
Kwesiga admits that it’s tough starting a business in a new market with limited finances. While he says it can be quite “overwhelming,” there are ways to handle the stress.“The first step is your personal attitude,” he says. “You have to believe 100 percent in what you’re doing and that the goals that you’ve set are attainable. Once you’ve convinced yourself of that, then you can start trying to convince other people that what you’re doing is worthwhile.”
In terms of financing, Kwesiga said he went around looking for loans “and the interest rates here are so high, and the amount of collateral that they’re looking for is, it’s really, it’s difficult to get a loan if you don’t have a lot of money to begin with,” he says. “But then if you have a lot of money to begin with, you don’t really need a loan.”
But he says one shouldn’t wait around to find the right amount of financing to launch a business. But that might come with changes to one’s original business plan, as Kwesiga had to scale back. “I had a plan in mind, but it was a bit vague, it wasn’t extremely specific, and then as I was talking to the consultants, to advisors, I realized that the ideas that I had were – I was thinking maybe two, three years down the line, and what would be available to me, my good starting point, would be if I scaled back,” he says. “So everything from, I mean, operational to marketing strategies, everything had to be scaled back to take advantage of what was actually available to me.”
Kwesiga advises budding entrepreneurs to be 100 percent invested in their ideas. “Believe within yourself that it is possible to achieve first and foremost,” he says. “And then, after that, you have to be creative. You’re going to run into all kinds of obstacles, all kinds of challenges, challenges that you would have never even seen coming, but if you’re creative and you still have the drive, then you’ll be able to go through them.
His final word of advice, “Yes, anything is possible, don’t just assume that things aren’t possible, if you stay in the perpetual state of motion, keep moving, you will find there’s a lot out there.”
Feature image is Derek Kwesiga, founder of Derekorp. Image provided by EMRC.
Brought to you in partnership with EMRC, which is “growing partnerships for Africa.”
Listen to an excerpt of the Afribiz.fm radio interview below.
Or download the excerpt of the Afribiz.fm radio interview from here.