When you hear the term “startup” you may think of tech hubs like San Francisco, or perhaps the new investment opportunities in startups listed by Forbes and other business platforms. However, in eastern Congo, young entrepreneurs are not only competing to launch their own businesses, but also to create positive change and development in their communities.
Wakisha, Swahili for “ignite,” is the business accelerator of Congo Initiative. Last month, Wakisha launched its first competition, “Leopards Lair,” followed by entrepreneurship training for close to 20 participants. The mission of Wakisha is to provide financial and mentoring support to emerging entrepreneurs to scale high impact, innovative start ups in eastern Congo and ignite transformational entrepreneurship.
The competition included 25 candidates and two rounds of selection. Candidates presented their detailed business ideas and during the first round, 18 candidates were selected. Ten were selected by a 5 member jury and reached the 2nd round. From soap, juice, and coffee production; to restaurants and animal breeding projects; to a multimedia company; the 10 selected projects displayed the creativity and innovation of entrepreneurs, a number of whom are UCBC alumni.
Following the competition, a two-day workshop and training equipped the new Wakisha entrepreneurs in business models, market research and marketing, and creating a culture of collaboration in Beni. UCBC’s Integrated Research Institute (IRI) contributed a business climate survey of Beni to help the entrepreneurs navigate and implement their business plans effectively. Leslie Ruyle, Assistant Director and Assistant Research Scientist for the USAID funded Center on Conflict and Development at Texas A&M, shared strategies on market research and discovering new customers, while Léonard Maliona, a local investor and director of SICOVIR, taught on business network marketing. UCBC alum and Wakisha coordinator, Butoto Mahinduzi, trained the participants on business models and valuation.
The ten candidates are now eligible to use a co-working space at a low rate and three will be selected to receive funds for a 6-month business scaling program through Wakisha.
We are incredibly grateful for the support provided by local and international partners. Wakisha provides the opportunity for local and international mentors to get involved and help these entrepreneurs become successful business owners that will benefit the wider community through products, services, and job creation. If you are interested in getting involved with innovative, economic entrepreneurship in Congo, please contact Wakisha Coordinator, Butoto Mahinduzi.