How to successfully manage a grant – startup founder’s experience

By: By Lydia Atieno
Published on: 2019-07-17
Visits: 157

On receiving a grant of Rwf1,500,000 through Akilah Entrepreneurship Fund (AEF) in 2017, Sakina Usengimana was keen on making the most of it, leading her to start making and selling jewelry as a business after school.

AEF is a yearly competition by Akilah Institute, providing seed funding to entrepreneurship students as well as external business development support to help students develop and expand their businesses after graduation.

Prior to the grant, the twenty-six-year-old was making and selling jewelry with her fellow students, friends and family members being her major clients.

Interestingly, doing handcraft business after school never crossed her mind as she had doubts about accessing capital.

The young entrepreneur had graduated two years back at Akilah Institute in business management and entrepreneurship.

She is a jewelry designer and owner of Ihogoza Designs, that create unique handmade jewelry.

Ihogoza Designs also works with artistic women to create financial independence using their hands. It also focuses on one primary market, women who value fashion.

“We make and sell jewelry such as earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Our target market is women, tourists, modeling agencies and brides for their tradition weddings among others.

“We sell to these target customers and suggesting color combinations that mean something to them. We also advise them on aspects such as size, style and shape for jewelry for various outfits and occasions demonstrating the knowledge of fashion designing that tells a story,” she said.

Usengimana said she is passionate about telling a story of her culture and the African continent through handcraft.

For her, each piece of her jewelry has a story behind it. Her aim is to continue to tell stories by working with women and empowering them to tell their own story through art as well.

Achievements

“As a jewelry designer, I believe not everyone wears jewelry simply to be beautiful, there is a story behind each jewelry piece that connects us to our true identity and people close to us,” she added.

Her biggest achievement was to secure and receive investment of Rwf1, 500,000 in the business competition at Akilah Institute two years ago.

This was the drive that has since seen her make it as far as raising start-up capital.

Through the fund, she also got the opportunity to receive training from Inkomoko Business Development, where she was allowed to get access to all business training.

She was also assigned a business coach, to help develop her business plan, brand, financing, production management as well   creating the logo.

Inkomoko Business Development is a business consulting firm that works with micro, small and medium enterprises in Rwanda to develop powerful strategies to increase their profits and help them grow.

In 2018-2019, she secured the Carl and Teresa Wilkens Award from Texas Christian University to study the Intensive English Program with a focus on communication and creative writing; which according to her is a great asset to Ihogoza Designs in terms of making jewelry.

“The connection, experience, and skills that I got during that one year program has helped me to bring more innovation in my jewelry company, expand and give back to my community in different ways such as training youth who want to be jewelry designers,” she said.

She said that she trains them how to ‘tell their stories’ through their creations. She does all these as a way of giving back to the community. 

Participating in different exhibitions such as Showroom organized in partnership with Belgium embassy in 2017, is also an achievement to her.

 Recently, Usengimana has showcased her work at events such as 10th edition of Kigali Fashion Week 2019, where she got an opportunity to be featured on TV10 in the program 10 Tonight and CNN Africa further providing a platform to showcase her work.

Challenges

The challenges at the moment, she said include access to high-quality materials as well as having a physical location that would enable her clients reach out to her.

However, as a way of solving the problem, she noted that she is currently receiving orders through her social media platforms such as like Instagram and Facebook.

She also frequents different exhibitions to showcase her work to potential clients.

Still on solving the challenge, she is also working on her website which will be up soon to further enable her access a wider market.

She advises upcoming young entrepreneurs to make the most of being young, shouldn’t be afraid to share with the world what they do even if it is still on the starting point.

  “Never give up; you are the only person who has the key to your own success. As a young entrepreneur, you have to thrive. Create a team that believes in what you do to help you learn from your mistakes,” she added.


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