Céphas Nshimyumuremyi, a young entrepreneur based in Musanze District, says his small cosmetic firm has significantly grown thanks to the YouthConnekt summit that he attended in 2013 and declared best innovator.
He recalls that previously he would not exceed Rwf100,000 monthly turnover from his products which he says were only known to a few clients from his neighbourhood of Nkotsi Sector.
His company, Uburanga Products Ltd., makes herbal jelly and soap from local medicinal plants that protect the skin leaving it silky and smooth.
Rwanda launched the YouthConnekt initiative back in 2012 in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) before it became continental in 2017.
Today, the gathering has been expanded to become a continental event, under the brand name Youth Connekt Africa Summit, whose edition for this year went underway yesterday.
The summit recognises the role of the youth in leadership and entrepreneurship by giving a platform to young people to deliberate on what the future holds.
Through the initiative, young entrepreneurs meet world business leaders and those who present viable projects can win prestige awards to take their businesses to another level.
"YouthConnekt has really been a bridge to me; my products were only sold in my sector," he noted.
"After being announced winner of the YouthConnekt 2013, that night I sold products that exceeded the ones I used to sell in a whole month.
My monthly turnover is now Rwf4million and it has been consistent for the past few years and I have been recording this turnover since years ago".
For Nshimyumuremyi, attending the gathering has nurtured his business thanks to contacts he built and advice he received from some reputable business leaders who hail from across the globe.
Nshimyumuremyi went on to say that before attending the Youth Conneckt he had two employees on his payroll but he reveals that he now employs 15 permanent staff.
He shares the same testimony with Assoumpta Uwamariya, 29, who emerged the best innovator at the YouthConnekt awards in 2016 and won Rwf5 million for her project of producing wine from beetroot.
"The money helped me expand my business. UNDP facilitated me on a study tour to Egypt which has been instrumental to me in my day-to-day endeavors," he said.
Uwamariya said she used to produce a single jerry can of beetroot wine daily before attending YouthConnekt summit, but she now manages to produce 200 liters with 12 staff on her payroll as opposed to previously where she considered herself a sole employee of her enterprise.
She added that she now sells her wine all over the world thanks to contacts she built through YouthConnekt initiative.
"You can now order my beetroots wine and get it from wherever you are as I have been facilitated to sell it online," noted Uwamaliya.
Uwamariya and fellow beneficiaries of YouthConnekt initiative share a common challenge of accessing packaging materials which impedes them from satisfying the market.
"It is still a challenge for small scale enterprises to access packaging materials as we are required to import them which is too expensive," she noted.
They also said that they encounter a challenge of some clients who undermine their products as they are yet to trust the Made-in-Rwanda products.
While touring the project by YouthConnekt champions who benefitted from UNDP funding in Musanze and Rubavu Districts, Ahunna Eziakonwa, the Assistant Secretary-General and Director of UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa commended the way beneficiaries were contributing towards sustainable development from their respective workplace.
"It is our conviction and belief that the youth are not troublemakers, are not creators of problems and conflict; they are actually an asset if governments and businesses invest in them and this is paying off because now everywhere we go we see young entrepreneurs who are creating social enterprises, who are using their talents to solve problems to provide development solutions," she noted.
"Young entrepreneurs have become partners in dealing with development challenges and particularly in addressing the sustainable development goals because goal one is that we need to end poverty by creating development solutions, making sure that people have employment and creating industries to add value to products," she added.
Eziakonwa is in the country for the Youth Connekt Africa Summit which was opened by President Paul Kagame at Kigali Arena yesterday, a summit that has attracted over 10,000 youths from Africa and beyond.