International Finance
BusinessJanuary-February 2019Magazine

Empowering East Africa’s small businesses

Empowering East Africa’s small businesses
East Africa’s small and medium enterprises largely operate without structure or business models – how can this high potential, lucrative industry made organized for optimum results?

The need to equip micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs) popularly referred to as small & medium enterprise (SMEs), with various skills and other resources that could empower them for better business operations and enhanced opportunities can’t be overemphasized.
Many of the SMEs in Kenya, Africa and other parts of the developing world are often solely owned by enterprising people who may have quit formal employment or who choose not to seek formal employment but to venture into business among other undertakings such as manufacturing of household and/or industrial among other products. On the other hand, some enterprising individuals keen and committed to earn an honest living also venture into different endeavors as a matter of passion and interest, or after missing out on formal employment given the dire unemployment situation in many parts of the developing world.
Unfortunately, many of the SMEs are operated without proper business plans. They lack structures that could enhance efficiency and effective processes and many are run on ad hoc basis. Many of them do not even keep records. Those run by owner- entrepreneurs also suffer due to lack of diverse resources and skills such as human resources, accounting and strategic planning among other critical skills which no single individual can possess.
In consideration of the myriad challenges and driven by a commitment and will to help SMEs overcome the odds and impediments, the Ventures Grand Stage Centre for Entrepreneurship (VGSC4E) has designed a unique and first-of-a kind platform for SMEs empowerment. “The VGSC4E is a platform that shall provide an all-round support mechanism for entrepreneurs. We shall coach them, give them business and operations tips and skills, provide market knowledge including on how to access financing linkages, selling skills, market opportunities & potential and even work to link them with venture capitalists and others who can provide funding,” explains VGSC4E Commercial Sales Director, Frank Muriungi.
According to Muriungi, training shall be provided in suitable and flexible formats including and presentations. He emphasizes that SMEs must be supported to find alternative credit linkage channels. “Since the capping of interest rates was introduced a few years ago by the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), commercial banks have abandoned SMEs opting to invest in high-yielding government bonds among other financial vehicles. Consequently, SMEs have been left like orphans with limited credit for scaling and expansion among other operational needs,” he rues.
Empowering East Africa’s small businessesAdditionally, the VGSC4E shall empower the SMEs through training and development that shall enable the companies’ Sales teams to sharpen and boost the requisite Selling skills and capacities. “We invite SMEs to undertake this specialized training in order for them to ably reach out to the market and customers effectively with the right products, product information and packaging. A business that can’t sell its products shall remain moribund and as dead as the Dodo,” he adds.
“We shall offer weekly entrepreneurial selling skills sessions covering various issues periodically in Nairobi CBD at the 5th floor of Tumaini House, every Saturday from 9am. This shall, however, be a unique training model different from the normal sales training as it shall be driven by entrepreneurs who have succeeded in selling their products. We shall partner with such entrepreneurs and offer guidance. Entrepreneurs who hear from their peers shall be better motivated to also aim higher and succeed,” affirms Muriungi.
He expounds that the VGSC4E shall also promote digital literacy among entrepreneurs. “We shall teach entrepreneurs how to sell their products and services through social media among other digital platforms. This shall offer golden opportunities for reaching wider and more discerning markets and also provide instant feedback from consumers,” Muriungi expounds. The professional digital selling training shall be provided on Thursdays, every week also at the Nairobi CBD Tumaini House.
According to him, the conventional and digital sales feedback, whether positive or negative, shall inspire the entrepreneurs to work tirelessly to improve their products and services, or to increase production in response to rising demand. If demand is not as expected, then the factors underlying low sales can be investigated with an aim of improving production. Muriungi re-emphasizes the age-old adage ‘knowledge is power’ and urges entrepreneurs to invest in acquiring knowledge.
“With rapidly changing technology boosted by among other factors innovation, every day changing market trends and discerning customers taste and needs, it is paramount that entrepreneurs must embrace change and seek the power of everyday knowledge gathering,” he adds.
He observes that those who ignore everyday search for knowledge, strategic planning and market-informed selling should be prepared to close shop. “Those who opt to embrace cutting –edge technology for both production and selling are assured of bigger and better competitive edge and access to wider markets including beyond Kenya and east Africa boundaries,” he affirms.
The VGSC4E plans to reach, engage and empower entrepreneurs in all 47 counties in the country and later offer its solutions and services in the wider East African market before venturing into the rest of Africa in the near future.

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