June 9, 2022

Meet five youth-led businesses scaling up in Rumonge, Burundi

Five youth-led startups and SMEs are being supported by the Akazi Keza programme to start and scale up their operations. From fish to palm oil, soap to sewing, these entrepreneurs are innovating and creating jobs in Burundi’s Rumonge region.

Burundi’s employment market offers few opportunities for youth and the resulting youth unemployment has become one of the country’s main challenges. Entrepreneurship offers a chance to turn job seekers into job creators. SPARK’s Akazi Keza programme, financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, seeks to support the different layers of the entrepreneurship ecosystem, from teaching business basics to budding entrepreneurs to coaching promising SMEs to scale and thrive. 

Rumonge, a bustling town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, was home to SPARK’s first entrepreneurship bootcamp for young graduates from vocational training centres. Graduates from Rumonge’s vocational training centre, which is supported by ENABEL, were invited to pitch their business ideas to a jury. The most promising entrepreneurs were selected for the bootcamp, which was followed by a business plan competition. The winners benefitted not only from prizes in the form of equipment but also from coaching to help them start their business. In 2021, this led to the development of 21 start-ups and the creation of 88 jobs. Given the project’s success, it will be reiterated and scaled up in other regions of Burundi.

In addition to start-ups, SPARK’s Akazi Keza programme also focuses on scale-ups. In 2021, 20 SMEs active in the palm oil value chain have been trained and coached to support their growth, which has led to the creation of 269 new jobs. Furthermore, 16 SMEs active in a variety of sectors, from fishing to soap-making, have also benefited from proximity coaching and matching grants, which led to the creation of 173 additional jobs.

Check out five of the leading businesses that have been supported by the Akazi Keza programme.

1. Felix: Car wash and repair shop

Felix cleans a car with the only water compressor in the Rumonge region © 2022, SPARK
COESA car wash © 2022, SPARK
The COESA repair shop is constantly busy © 2022, SPARK

Felix graduated from Rumonge’s vocational training centre three years ago after having studied auto-mechanics. Unable to find a job, he then teamed up with seven other youngsters and they created ‘COESA’, a car wash and repair shop. COESA were among the winners of the business plan competition, receiving a small grant, which allowed them to purchase a water compressor and other equipment to get started. “An essential skill I learned is planning. It allowed me to turn ideas into actions,” he says.

Having started its activities in October 2021, just a few months later, they service an average of 30 cars and buses per day and their repair shop is constantly busy. As a result, Felix is able to afford decent housing and sufficient food for himself and his family. 

2. Neema: Modern apparel makers

The ladies of Tuberwe in Rumonge, Burundi © 2022, SPARK
Tuberwe, a sewing workshop for modern apparel in Rumonge, Burundi © 2022, SPARK

Neema graduated from the sewing school of Rumonge’s vocational training centre more than 10 years ago. She found a job as an intern in a sewing workshop, where her salary was meagre and her novel ideas weren’t welcome. 

Partaking in the bootcamp this year, Neema created a startup with four other graduates: Tuberwe, a sewing workshop for modern apparel. The business idea was among the winners of the business plan competition and awarded with prizes in the form of equipment and coaching to support them in the early stages of their business. The Tuberwe sewing workshop now produces 14 elaborate pieces of clothing per day using 6 sewing machines. All Tuberwe workers can now afford decent housing and have food security. They feel proud of what they have accomplished and nurture their ambitions to grow the business in the future.

3. Manasse: Soap-making business

Manasse cutting bars of soap in Rumonge, Burundi © 2022, SPARK
Drying the palm nuts in Rumonge, Burundi © 2022, SPARK

Manasse has a bachelor’s degree in Economics but struggled to find a job in Burundi’s unfavourable employment market. He turned to entrepreneurship because he wanted: “to become a job creator, instead of a job seeker”. He teamed up with three other young men and they invested their savings to launch the Ishaka soap-making business. The team collects and dries palm nuts, then grinds them to obtain the palm nut oil. The palm oil is then used to produce soap. On average, Ishaka produces 6,000 kg of soap per month and they sell the totality of their produce. 

When they started out, the youngsters lacked business skills. Through the training and coaching delivered by a local implementation partner of SPARK, the entrepreneurs set up accounting processes and became compliant with business regulations. They have issued formal employment contracts to their permanent employees, saying: “We no longer have to hide what we are doing and we can be proud of our business.”

4. David and Emmanuel: Palm nut mill

To obtain top-quality oil, the raw oil is manually separated from the liquid resulting from the grinding process and then heated up © 2022, SPARK

Coming from a region abundant in palm trees, David grew up observing his community use heavy, manual grinding machines to painstakingly extract the oil from palm nuts. During one of his travels further upcountry, he saw a modern grinding machine and was inspired. To raise sufficient funds to purchase such a machine, he partnered with Emmanuel and they created the Mutambara oil mill. 

Despite purchasing the machine, they quickly realised that they lacked both technical and commercial experience for business. “Being able to produce something does not mean you are able to sell it,” says David. Their clients did not trust them at first and would watch them at work before daring to purchase their oil. Even then, they had to reduce their prices to convince clients to buy their produce.

With support from SPARK’s coaches, David mastered the basics of accounting and marketing. As well as selling palm oil, Mutambara also allows clients to bring their own palm nuts to be ground for a fee. Moreover, Mutambara received a matching grant from SPARK, which they used to purchase a truck to transport palm nuts from further afield, allowing them to increase their production. “I knew how to make top-quality palm oil. Through coaching and training, I now also know how to sell what I produce”.

5. Jean-Claude: Dried fish business

Members of COPROCOPEBU in Rumonge, Burundi © 2022, SPARK
Jean-Claude receiving coaching on accounting matters from CEMAC in Rumonge, Burundi © 2022, SPARK
Fishing boats on Lake Tanganyika © 2022, SPARK

Jean-Claude is the treasurer of COPROCOPEBU, a cooperative active in the commercialisation of Ngagalas, a sardine species from Lake Tanganyika. Some of the members of COPROCOPEBU are master fishermen and the cooperative buys their fish first. The fish are then transported to drying racks where they are dried for a day or two, depending on the weather conditions. They are then packaged and sold.

COPROCOPEBU became one of 16 SMEs from the Rumonge area to benefit from advanced training and proximity coaching by CEMAC, local experts in business coaches and long-term partner of SPARK. CEMAC helped the cooperative in setting out a business plan that would enable them to invest in the drying racks required to produce high-quality products. SPARK helped them along the way by financing part of the installations as well as weighing scales.

Once the drying racks were operational and the production process perfected, their production soared from an average of 392kg to 1472kg per month, multiplying their profits by 10. Importantly, the expansion enabled the cooperative to employ 11 more people in the local community. “Coaching enabled us to grow from a small cooperative drying fish on the sand to producers of high-quality dried fish that is sold in Bujumbura and that hopefully will be sold abroad in the near future!”