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  • Enhancing Market Access for Manufacturing SMEs


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It is a new dawn for youth in Kwale as Invest in Africa (IIA) in collaboration with Base Titanium Limited unveils a business acceleration program to formalize and catalyze the growth of youth-owned/led micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Kwale County. The initiative, named the Kwale Youth Biashara Program, involves formalizing businesses, business skills and finance training, digital skills training, business coaching, and linkages to market and finance. Under this initiative, IIA will provide young entrepreneurs with tailored capacity building through training sessions and boot camps. The young entrepreneurs will also have an opportunity to onboard their businesses onto the Biashara.Now, IIA’s unique technology-based business membership platform, to access procurement opportunities within the IIA network among other business services.

Youth make up to 75% of the Kenyan population, according to the 2019 Population and Census results. This statistic means that the country stands on the runway of economic take-off if it finds the best way to harness the energy, creativity, and entrepreneurship that young people can offer.

However, young entrepreneurs in Kenya face a myriad of challenges that curtail their success in the entrepreneurship venture. Lack of business skills and experience is one of the main setbacks ailing the take-off of youth-led businesses. Research has shown that most MSMEs, the majority of which are youth-led, do not have a business plan, are not formally registered, and do not have financial records. These MSMEs do not meet the minimal criteria to access industry opportunities, including the necessary financing to grow.

According to a 2022 survey conducted by IIA in Kwale, young entrepreneurs lack the business and digital literacy skills needed to run an enterprise successfully. The survey also revealed that most youth-led enterprises do not have access to finance and trade opportunities due to a lack of the requisite compliance and a failure to meet procurement requirements. These findings agree with an earlier study undertaken in 2020 by IIA in Kwale and Turkana Counties: The impact of COVID-19 on Rural Small and Growing Businesses and Recommended Measures to build their long-term Resilience.

The Kwale Youth Biashara Program comes in handy to enable young entrepreneurs to navigate the modern-day business environment. The program will equip the participating entrepreneurs with the necessary skills to formally run their businesses. It will also support them throughout their compliance journeys by ensuring they can register their enterprises and acquire the obligatory trade requirements. Through coaching, which is part of the program, the entrepreneurs will understand and incorporate key business elements such as ESG, investor readiness, and entrepreneurship mindset shift. This intervention will improve trade for youth-led businesses by allowing them to fully trade in the various value chains and position them for funding opportunities. By signing up for Biashara Now, the youth-led enterprises can apply for tender opportunities from big, developed enterprises such as Base Titanium Limited, which form part of IIA’s network of corporates, multinationals, and development partners.

IIA’s vision is to be the leading network in accelerating trade and investment with small and growing businesses in Africa. The organization hopes to achieve this by empowering enterprises to create sustainable jobs by improving access to skills, markets, and finance. The Kwale Youth Biashara Program, under the partnership with Base Titanium Limited, aligns with one of IIA’s key focus areas to engender the inclusion of youth in enterprise to champion inclusive private sector growth and catalyze MSMEs.

IIA acknowledges partnership as a core value and is keen to collaborate with key players in the business field to implement initiatives geared toward driving sustainable economic prosperity. The organization recognizes the immense contribution of MSMEs to the Kenyan economy. As such, IIA understands the need to empower high-potential groups such as the youth to grow MSMEs as key to bolstering the economy.

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As a business owner/leader, is your business viable for funding opportunities?

For Lyimmo Magani, this question began to linger in his mind when he noticed his funding requests to expand his business were either turned down or never replied.

Lyimmo is the founder and CEO of L's Food Lab Ltd, a Kenyan-based manufacturing start-up. L's Food Lab Ltd, which goes by the name brand Adisia, manufactures consumable products that include seasoning spices and sauces such as chill, ketchup, and mayonnaise.

When he founded L's Food Lab Ltd in 2019, Lyimmo hoped to lead the company through a flawless growth trajectory. His dream was to acquire a 15% market share, create more jobs, and impact society through charitable programs.

However, along the way, Lyimmo faced setbacks in attempts to raise the funds he required to grow his business. He used to send out funding requests to investors and financiers, but they rejected, and others never replied. Lyimmo’s business, like most micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Kenya, was unattractive to funders and investors.

Lack of access to finance is one of the main challenges curtailing the growth of MSMEs. While formality (possession of formal business documents) is a requirement to access finance, most MSMEs operate within the informal sector and do not qualify for the minimum funding criteria by investors and financiers. This challenge means that MSMEs have continued to struggle with inadequate access to finance, causing most of them to die within the first few years of their inception.

“I went out there to look for funds to jump-start the growth of my business, but I could not convince any investor or financier because, as I realize later, my business was not viable for funding at the moment." says Lyimmo Magani.

While browsing online for potential solutions to his business ailment, Lyimmo learned about Invest in Africa's (IIA) investor readiness program. He knew his turning point had come and enrolled in the program. According to Lyimmo, the program enabled him to understand how he could bring order to his business to make it attractive to external stakeholders.  

He says that "Through the IIA investor readiness program, I learned how I could effectively govern and manage my business, and the importance of rolling out structures like audited accounts, and financial projections”. He adds that the program enabled him to understand the business structures and processes gaps that needed attention for his company to be viable for external funding.  

IIA is a not-for-profit organization focused on empowering MSMEs to grow and scale by improving their access to skills, finance, and markets. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, IIA designed a business resilience initiative that included an MSME investor readiness program. The 8-month training and finance facilitation program was aimed at supporting MSMEs to comply with the requisite business frameworks to access growth finance from investors and financial institutions.

Three months after graduating from the program, Lyimmo Magani is pleased with the immense impact this has had on his business. Through the program, he developed a professional funding pitch deck that has kicked off promising funding conversations. Lyimmo has completed audited accounts for his business, predicting his revenue and profit margins. He has further developed a financing model which has enabled him to identify financial gaps and mitigation actions for his business.

By applying business governance lessons learned in the program, Lyimmo restructured his business model, necessitating him to employ more staff to fill the gaps he found. He says that the business has clear structures that can enable them to achieve growth milestones. “Right now, we can pitch correctly for funding, and I am confident that we will expand to manufacturing more than ten different products before the end of this year. I also believe that we will improve our market share to more than 10% in the Kenyan Market within two years,” adds Lyimmo.

IIA acknowledges the immense contribution of MSMEs to job creation and the economy. As such, the organization is keen to enhance the capacity of MSMEs to actively partake in trade by positioning them for market and finance opportunities. IIA has continued to implement initiatives, such as the investor readiness program, that align with its mission of empowering enterprises to create sustainable jobs.

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The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. In the case of Nicodem Mayison, Director and Founder of Palma Group Limited, he decided not to give up on his business which had been disrupted by war.

Since 2010 Palma Group Limited, a supply, and logistics firm, had been operating mainly in South Sudan, though registered in Kenya as well. Business was good until conflict broke out in 2016, causing the entrepreneur to lose about $ 1.2 million worth of equipment and ongoing contracts, leading to a shutdown.

While waiting for the conflict to be resolved, Nick launched Palma Organic Farm, a subsidiary of Palma Group Limited, resident in Kenya, focusing on climate action by neutralizing carbon emission through activities that help absorb carbon from the atmosphere. 

In 2018, they launched the business in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), venturing into the carbon markets.

While outsourcing financial solutions and partners for his business, Nick came across Invest in Africa’s (IIA) Investor Readiness Program on social media. He seized the opportunity to help his business recover from the loss sustained as a result of the war.

According to Nick, the program was necessary for his business as it was challenging to get investors due to a lack of a financial and an accounting regime, which led to poor records keeping. Nick needed to acquire knowledge to put in place a proper documentation structure and streamline the operations to attract investors.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, about 22 percent of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) do not keep any formal records of their operations. This poses a major strain in attracting potential investors, adding to these businesses' access to finance gap.  

“The program helped us in developing proper records of our financials models. We also created an accounting routine and developed policies and a human resource management structure,’’ said Nick. 

He added that Palma Organic Farm is in the best place to implement sizeable projects while ensuring better documentation. He confirms that the organization is now investor-ready and has continued to fast-track proper policy implementation. We believe that in the near future, we will be sustainable because investors can now have confidence in investing in our venture.

As an entrepreneur, Nick realizes the importance of streamlining the business operations to ensure that most of the requirements of investment criteria are in place. He learned how to revamp company pitching materials, which improved their marketing, and clients are already appreciating.

“Our business capacity has improved thanks to the structures we have put in place. By recognizing the need to capture information about the business and the market, we learned how to collate, process, and use information. We have been keen to track our business activities and use the collected information to plan and predict the future. In addition, this provides the investors with much-needed information to make an investment decision,” iterated Nick.

Nick developed a bespoke business plan through the initiative, which was implemented professionally within the program. He also developed business models per sector and designed a financial plan per program to serve the wide area of operation the organization is in.

As a result of the capacity, we have enlisted from IIA’s Investor Readiness Program, we plan to fully establish the organization in Kenya and supervise the other offices in South Sudan and DRC from here.

Nick’s advice to other entrepreneurs is that ‘information is power’. He advises them to be accountable for all operations and be keen to keep the necessary records. This, in turn, will help plan and predict the future and present an investor-ready business.

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