Most if not all economic analysts are in agreement that entrepreneurship holds the key to the creation of job opportunities and hence improvement of livelihoods.
As a country therefore we must begin to think seriously on how we can nurture an entrepreneurship culture. This is made more urgent by the fact that we are faced with a biting shortage of jobs.
What is undeniable is that Kenyans, especially young people, are full of brilliant ideas that could grow into big businesses if afforded a conducive environment. The question is how we can entrench such a favourable atmosphere that can help build these ideas into successful enterprises. The starting point is to understand the problems that start-ups face and which cause a good number of them to fail even before they celebrate one year of existence.
The lack of capital is often cited as a major setback, and indeed it is. Potential entrepreneurs still find it hard to access funding as successive World Bank reports show. Even established firms find it difficult to obtain finances to scale up their operations. This is an issue that needs to be critically addressed if we are to see more young people actualising their dreams. The prospects however look promising with the government and financial institutions having created special funds for young people and SMEs. These include the Youth Enterprise Fund as well as Barclays’ Wezesha Biashara and Tujiajiri by Kenya Commercial Bank. There is, therefore, need to create awareness among the youth on the existence of these funds. It is also important that these funds must be disbursed ingeniously so that serious entrepreneurs who are passionate about their ideas access them.
Aside from capital, another big challenge facing young people looking to join the world of business is in how they draw the ultimate goal that they seek to achieve. Most of them put money first such that when they fail to get it in few months down the entrepreneurship road, they throw their hands up in despair and firmly shut the door on the business.
There is a lot more to business than just money. Yes you must earn a profit for any enterprise to make sense, but if you are obsessed with just the financial side of it, chances of failing will be pretty high.
Look at your idea from the perspective of what the society needs. People will pay for a service and product they need; they will not buy it to make you rich. Thus a good business lies in the problems people face. If your idea will help address them, then you are in business. Thus, before thinking of how much money your idea will be worth, it is wise to ask yourself what problem it will address.
Until you have figured out a proper end game right at the start, cents will not make much sense in the long run. How many people have committed millions if not billions into business ideas that ended up in the gutter? This underlines the importance of a well-thought out idea.
To help sharpen business ideas we ought to establish support systems. We could come up with enterprise academies where potential and upcoming entrepreneurs can get first-hand interaction with those who started small and are now towering giants in multiple sectors of the economy. It is not easy to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship where there are no mentors to guide start-ups. The earlier we deal with this the better.
Another lesson I have learnt is that successful people/entrepreneurs are self-made. They are equipped with a compelling conviction and an idea they believe in. This is very crucial as the business road is sometimes rough and slippery and is not for the faint-hearted. Passion, focus and resilience will take you through the myriad rough patches.
Business guru Harland Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken or KFC as the franchise is popularly referred suffered innumerable setbacks, but he never gave up. He lost his father when he was a boy and the mother could not send him to school. He began doing menial jobs before he started selling chicken. He later rented a premise from where he operated. A fierce fire would later raze down his business. He rebuilt it. A bypass constructed by the state later took away traffic on the side of his restaurant. He had to sell the building he had built remaining with $105 or Sh10, 500 after paying his debts. He resorted to hawking chicken before regaining his foothold. Today KFC has over 11,000 branches across the globe. Such is the resilience that entrepreneurs must be equipped with.
Acquisition of knowledge is also another crucial element of entrepreneurship. Schools, colleges and universities may impart entrepreneurial skills but that is just the beginning. As an entrepreneur you need to do more. You need to research more and read widely. Never cease to acquire knowledge. Even when your venture is doing well, reading makes you alert to new opportunities and keep abreast with the ever shifting technology. I have learnt through experience that in business if you fail to innovate, you are preparing to fail.
The writer is the chairman and founder Mount Kenya University