Interview: Sara and Julienne from Inkomoko

Sara and Julienne from Inkomoko

This is an interview with Julienne Oyler and Sara Leedom, the co-founders of African Entrepreneur Collective. In Rwanda, AEC’s main program is Inkomoko, a business accelerator for young people. They also have managed Tigo’s THINK incubator, SPRING accelerator, and now also run the African Innovation Prize, a student business plan competition. They’re doing awesome things and here’s an interview with them…

What gave you the idea to start AEC/Inkomoko?

African youth are more educated than ever before, but the pace of economic development is not keeping up for young people who need meaningful, reliable jobs. The growing youth population across the continent requires that Africa create 1 million new jobs a month to keep up with the number of young people coming onto the job market. A few years ago, we met a young Malian man who had a dream of growing his small tourism business into a full service hotel. He had the passion and the vision, but not the skills, resources, or connections to make it come to life. We have both been committed to helping young people create better lives for themselves, and in turn, for their communities. So we wanted to contribute to the growth of youth businesses across the Continent as a means of economic development and self-determination for African youth.

Julienne has been working on the continent off and on since 2007, when she first came to South Africa as a student at University of Cape Town. Sara first came to Africa via Senegal, for a 6-month backpacking trip through West Africa. When we decided to launch the African Entrepreneur Collective, with the goal to grow youth-run businesses, one of our advisors raved about Rwanda, so we came here to explore, and it’s been home now for the past 3 years. When we came to Rwanda, we brought a full package of support to turn Inkomoko – then a small consulting project – into a full company. Inkomoko is the Rwandan affiliate of African Entrepreneur Collective.

Now we have almost 20 staff and work with 100 entrepreneurs annually in our office in Kacyiru (we’re located right above Neo Cafe in Kacyiru).

Who does Inkomoko aim to benefit?

Our goal is to provide young entrepreneurs with the skills and resources to develop and grow their businesses so they can improve the economic wellbeing of their communities. We believe that businesses are the key to job creation and economic growth, and that young people are the risk-takers who will create new innovations for their communities’ growth. Ideally, we’re looking for someone who already runs a small business and is ready to grow it to create jobs.

How does it work?

Clients come to Inkomoko to purchase a 1-year business development package – which is then tailored to meet a client’s business objectives. As a business accelerator, our services include comprehensive business consulting — business plan development, branding & websites, strategy consulting, mentors from across the globe, and a low-cost capital lease program — to help businesses grow and create local jobs. We also help pair entrepreneurs with other investors who look to us for ideas of successful start-ups worthy of investment.

How do you find Rwandan entrepreneurs to work with?

We receive many requests through our partners and through word of mouth from our clients. But entrepreneurs can also find us on our website at http://www.inkomoko.com to learn more or to schedule a free consultation. Plus, we host events that are relevant, like the bi-monthly Kigali Entrepreneur MeetUp series, or open workshops on fundraising.

What is the mentorship programme and how can people get involved?

The mentorship program is an opportunity for experienced business professionals from around the world to volunteer in Rwanda and make a powerful impact in the life and business of a young entrepreneur. More than 40 mentors from 27 countries have worked alongside Inkomoko entrepreneurs in the past few years. They’ve come from Oxford, Yale, Coca Cola, Oracle, SaleForce, BCG Consulting, and more.

We also love local Rwanda mentors – both established Rwandese business people and expats that want to get involved. To learn more please visit http://www.africanentrepreneurcollective.org/get-involved/#mentor

Where have your mentors come from and what has been some of the feedback you’ve gotten from them?

Our mentors come from all walks of life and from around the world, currently we have mentors from the U.S. and the U.K. and the feedback has been promising. Our mentors love working with our clients and our clients express the same. As one mentor put it, “Working at Inkomoko has taught me how to use my professional experience to make a difference. I never imagined how significant of an impact I could make in someone’s life by mentoring and teaching business principles, and in doing so realize how meaningful it could feel”.

How are your mentors directly able to benefit your entrepreneurs?

Our mentors work directly with entrepreneurs to help them establish and meet their business goals. Whether it’s providing financial training, assisting an entrepreneur develop a business plan, or pitching to investors for a new business venture, our mentors provide training and resources in every step of the process. Often, our entrepreneurs say that the mentor relationship is one of the parts of the Inkomoko package that they didn’t really value at first, but that turned into one of the most meaningful experiences.

What have been some challenges Inkomoko has faced?

As a start-up ourselves, we can empathize with the challenges that our entrepreneurs face. We too are trying to make sure Rwanda knows Inkomoko and we can find clients, that we can hire top talent, and that we are achieving the results we’ve promised to shareholders and partners. The business development environment is just as welcoming and productive as people hear that it is, and we’ve been pleased with the growth that we’ve had in Rwanda in just a few short years. It’s been a fantastic location to test our model, and to learn from the entrepreneurs that trust us with their business development.

What has been some of the feedback from the entrepreneurs you’ve worked with?

Inkomoko has had the opportunity to work with some fantastic entrepreneurs, some average entrepreneurs, and some struggling entrepreneurs. No matter the stage of the entrepreneur or the business, we try to tailor our offering to meet the entrepreneur where they are in that moment to be able to help grow their businesses. And as a result, we’ve had really positive relationships without clients, helping them grow. We’ve helped create over 700 jobs across Rwanda, have helped clients secure hundreds of thousands of additional investment, and 90% of our clients are still in business, and more than 70% say that their business has grown because of our support. Our entrepreneurs trust us with some of the biggest decisions of their lives – often without family support or safety nets, we take seriously our responsibility to see each entrepreneur succeed.

How supportive do you think Rwanda is to entrepreneurs?

Rwanda is one of the global leaders in its support to entrepreneurs by reducing regulatory burdens on starting and managing businesses, and creating the infrastructure needed to see the country and its private sector continue to grow. H.E. President Kagame, and the Rwanda government ministries and agencies, fully embrace the power that the private sector, and especially small businesses, have on economic growth, and they have created meaningful programs and policies to further stimulate economic growth. Over 90% of the businesses in Rwanda have fewer than 4 employees, so there is a lot of room to keep growing these companies to create jobs and wealth. Rwanda is head and shoulders above its peers, and yet, we still have room to grow.

What do you have planned for the future of Inkomoko?

In Rwanda, Inkomoko will stay its course, providing high-quality business development services for a range of entrepreneurs. This January, we are replicating the Inkomoko model in Moshi, Tanzania, providing the lessons of what we’ve seen work in Rwanda with other entrepreneurs in neighboring regions. We hope this will open up new cross- border trade opportunities for our Rwandan clients, as we seek to create an East African hub of AEC companies, all supporting one another to create jobs for youth.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.