The first Rwandan 'global entrepreneurship week' was held last week, providing an occasion for entrepreneurs to share dreams and success stories.
One of those stories was from Japhet Nshimiyimana, who will be turning twenty-three next month. "I started my handicraft business one year ago with 5000 francs, now my business has grown because I am now producing 50 bags in one month and I employ five people in my business. My working capital has also grown tenfold," Nshimiyimana explained.
Her story was one of the dozens that caught the attention of the hundreds of participants during Rwanda's first participation in the global entrepreneurship week. "Entrepreneurship is about being smart. I started with just five thousand, who among you can't get such a small amount?" Nshimiyimana asked her audience.
Sandra Idossou is the founding publisher of ServiceMag, a publication of business solutions and tips on efficient service provision; she also shared her entrepreneurial origins and her current stature which enabled her to be one of the sponsors who raised the Frw 12 million that facilitated the week's activities.
"All I had to start was just my writing talent and a laptop, and today I get business calls from people I never imagined would ever have a need to deal with me," Idossou explained. "It's about having confidence in yourself."
Perhaps the biggest inspiration and one of the most promising dreams of the night were held in Rosine Ndayishimye's story. A senior-five student at LDK, she is the founder president of the school's entrepreneurship club whose objective is to teach fellow students on how to be self reliant through personal income generating businesses.
Her club started an avocado business with just Frw 2800, selling the fruit for a small profit to fellow students. She says they have now diversified with the addition of bananas, and their customer base has tripled.
"As students, we don't have to rely on jobs after school, our club is helping create awareness among students that one can create their own job and earn a decent living," Ndayishimye pointed out.
And, as her school bursar testified, it has not affected her studies - Ndayishimye has been topping her physics, math and biology class for as long as he remembers.
Eric Kacou, author of the book Entrepreneurial solutions for prosperity in the BOP markets, also inspired with a keynote speech in which he highlighted what he calls the "survival trap" - a situation where one always blames others for his own failure in breaking through. According to him, "entrepreneurship is about mind change;" what young people need to do is to have a vision and choose good role models to inspire and mentor them towards achieving their dreams.
"You need to get rid of that loser's mind and acquire an Archimedean mindset where you don't do something for yourself but for others, that's an entrepreneur's mindset," Kacou explained. "A virtuous cycle of prosperity will only come after a change in mindset."
Emmanuel Hategeka, the permanent secretary at the ministry of trade and industry, for his part recognized that the entrepreneurship week has challenged his ministry to do more to encourage and support the youth whose desire to set up businesses was overwhelming during the week.
"Entrepreneurship does not only need a week but months or years before we get there. Therefore the trade ministry will soon commence a project for young enterprises called Hanga omurimo which will promote more entrepreneurship in the country and increase the number of registered enterprises, which today stands at 11,958 businesses, in line with achieving our 2020 vision," Hategeka remarked.
Benjamin Cox, the national coordinator of the Babson Rwanda Entrepreneurial Centre which organized the week, said the event was a success that has laid the groundwork for next year's fete which he promised will be bigger and attract more partners and participants.
He also said they are going to exploit the support government is pledging through Minicom in order to help inspire and make it possible for more young people to start businesses.
"We are always open for challenges and will definitely work toward having a bigger event next year since we have now laid the ground work," Benjamin Cox said.