Thursday the 21st of November Rwanda Development Board (RDB), BiD Network and JCI Rwanda organized the 9th International and 2nd East African edition of the Growing SMEs – Connect.Exchange.Invest. – conference at the Lemigo Hotel in Kigali, Rwanda. Growing SMEs is an umbrella concept under which different unique events take place around the world. During this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Week BiD Network and its partners actually organized three Growing SMEs events geared towards SME growth: in Jordan, Mexico and Rwanda.
Growing SMEs East Africa Conference
Growing SMEs East Africa 2013 was opened with a networking cocktail at Italian restaurant Via Veneto. Conference participants had the opportunity to connect and get acquainted with the topics being discussed during the conference the next day on the 21st. The official conference was opened by Ambassador Valentine Rugwabiza, CEO of Rwanda Development Board. She sketched the importance of SMEs being the back bone of the Rwandan and East African Economies. She went on to state the importance of regional integration:“Rwandan SMEs need to get connected to international supply chains. They can find these in East Africa already though; hence strategic partnerships within the EAC need to be encouraged.” Executive Director of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) Randall Kempner focused his key-note on the meaning of ‘Access’ in the entrepreneurial Eco-System. The main theme of this year’s conference was ‘ACCESS – For SME Growth’. Where the 2012 conference focused solely of Access to Finance, this year’s conference took a broader look at the whole ecosystem affecting SME growth, split further into Access2Markets, Access2Information/Networks and Access2Finance. Kempner said that Access to Skills should not be forgotten.“There is a clear need for talented people. However it is really “HOW” to get them that is difficult. If the basic education and the basic interest is there, then entrepreneurship can be taught.”
After the plenary opening the three Access themes were discussed in more depth in breakout sessions.Access2Finance discussed the prerequisites for entrepreneurs aiming to access capital. “Key for a financier is that the entrepreneur has to fully understand his business and to really know where he/she wants to go” according to Eric Rutabana of Business Partners International. The panelists elaborated further on the importance of cash flow, entrepreneur experience and innovative forms of financing that are currently available. According to George Otieno Odhiambo of KCB Rwanda “Cash flow is king; collateral is not always necessary, but cash flow is.”
Access2Markets discussed key constraints in accessing markets, such as the importance of understanding the market and its customer’s needs, market information barriers and product certification for export. “It is about talking to customers to see if the product you are producing fits their needs” said Anne Kayiwa from Barefoot Power Uganda Ltd. Furthermore, the discussion elaborated on government procurement and government policies on informal markets. As a third topic finance in the value chain was reviewed. The panelists discussed how SMEs can be the link between a microfinance institution (MFI) and other smaller entrepreneurs (micro-franchisees). According to Raphaël S. Devantier General Manager at Equity Investment Bank Limited lifelong learning will help you in getting access to markets. “Always be open to learn from others in your markets: be a professional student.”
The third panel session, Access2Information and Networks, elaborated on the importance of using information and networks during the start-up and growth stages of a business. Panelists Tonee Ndungu, Barbara Birungi, Victor Schmedding and Kyai Mullei discussed how to create the right visibility for a company. They focused on how websites and social media usage can support the start of a business, but also during its growth. In addition they spoke about the importance of the entrepreneur as a brand. Tonee Ndungu of Kytabu highlighted “You yourself should become the information, it’s about selling yourselves, YOU as an entrepreneur are actually the product, making yourself known to the market is key.”
Marketplace and Get In The Ring
The afternoon was opened by Honourable Minister for Industry and Trade, mr. Francois Kanimba. Mr. Kanimba officially launched the Rwandese SME Portal and opened the ninth international Marketplace. During the marketplace 30 national and international entrepreneurs from Burundi, Kenya, Liberia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda presented and pitched their business to financiers and peers. The businesses showcased at the marketplace varied from a mobile phone platform for crowdfunding in Kenya to banana flour production in Liberia and from poultry production in Tanzania to a water storage business in Burundi. All the entrepreneurs got the opportunity to show the potential of their business and the reasons why financiers should invest in them.
Parallel to the marketplace the first ever Rwandese edition of the Get In The Ring pitch investment battle took place, presented by Rika Fontana from BiD Network and Livingstone Nkuusi of RDB. The from origin Dutch concept is a pitching battle in an actual boxing ring that offers entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their business and prove to be the strongest in the battle. 8 pre-selected Rwandese entrepreneurs had the opportunity to convince the champions (the jury) of their business potential. The 7 champions were representatives of Rwandese banks, investment funds, a national government guarantee fund and a Dutch Angel Investor Network. After 12 battles Micheline Muhimpundu of Alpha Foods Processing was selected as the strongest player in the field and the official winner of the first Get In The Ring battle in Rwanda. Micheline won a cash prize of RWF 2 million and the runner up, Innocent Munyaneza, won a cash prize of RWF 1 million with his Hoziyana E-Business. Besides the cash prize and great show, more important however was the financiers’ interest: the 7 financiers together expressed interest in all of the participants. In total 21 matchmaking meetings have been set up and entrepreneurs and financiers are currently following up, so potential matches are in the making.
Matchmaking and preparing entrepreneurs for investment were the two main goals of the Growing SMEs efforts this year. Therefore, a special investor matchmaking day was organized the day after the conference. Over 60 follow up meetings were planned between entrepreneurs and international financiers, 11 business to business meetings between the international marketplace entrepreneurs and likeminded Rwandan business took place and 6 Rwandan banks engaged in a pool side speed dating event. 17 entrepreneurs pitched their business to the banks that in exchange gave information about their financial products and requirements. In a time-span of 3 hours, 78 meetings took place. Michael Iryamakuru of KCB Rwanda said the following about the speed dating initiative “We were impressed by the quality of the entrepreneurs and we will follow up with them. Next steps for us will be to do site visits to their premises.” In the upcoming months RDB, BiD Network and JCI Rwanda will actively follow up with the entrepreneurs and investors. Needless to say that we will keep you updated on upcoming results.
BiD Network and its partners are currently planning upcoming Growing SMEs editions for 2014 so stay tuned for more information by following us on social media.