Expanding success through mentorship

Value-added services from financial institutions are not something Rwandan SMEs are accustomed to, and the benefit one young entrepreneur, Jean de Dieu Kagabo, gained from a Business Partners mentorship was a welcome surprise.

Business Partners sponsored mentorship prizes for the 2011 SME categories in the annual RDB Business Excellence Awards. The awards took place earlier this year and Kagabo, whose company, Soft Group, manufactures sanitary paper and drinking straws amongst other items, won the Young Entrepreneur of the year 2011 as well as the Best SME in General Manufacturing.

Kagabo’s recognition of excellence is one that is well deserved and has even been featured in a new book on the emerging world’s entrepreneurs, Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky.

With Kagabo’s father killed during the genocide, his mother dying immediately after, and with much of the family money spent by his brothers, Kagabo, at the age of 18, grew the company out of necessity – his and his consumers.

According to Brilliant, Crazy, Cocky: “He decided to manufacture basic goods that the bulk of the population needs every day, so he taught himself mandarin (Chinese language) and flew to China to buy manufacturing equipment.

“Kagabo has built an amazing — and innovative– consumer package goods company– and he sees new business opportunities around every corner in booming Rwanda.”

With this desire to continually grow and develop his business, Kagabo seized this mentorship opportunity afforded to him by Business Partners and chose to visit a South African business that operates in the same sector as his.

In March 2012 Kagabo spent time at Green Tissues (Pty) Ltd in Cape Town, a Business Partners client that manufactures tissue from recycled paper.

“The purpose for this choice was because I plan to expand my business and start recycling paper to be used largely on the tissue production line,” says Kagabo.

“The visit helped me exchange some ideas and conduct further feasibility studies and better understand some of the tricks of the trade and also how I would roll out my expansion plan. I had initially planned to install a very small recycling plant unit but after consulting with Green Tissue it came out that it would cost the same amount to install and operate a bigger recycling unit. I am glad that I discovered this upfront and have since revised the expansion plan and the investment decision,” adds Kagabo.

Not only did Kagabo gain a great deal of insight into his planned expansion, but has also received committed support from Green Tissue in the implementation of the paper recycling project at Soft Group.

“I also came back and implemented some changes adapted from Green Tissues to my current production process through better coordination of production processes, which has helped reduce waste at the plant and increase production and margins without additional investment” says an excited Kagabo.

“In addition, I improved the packaging process of products from a manual process to complete automation by acquiring a minor component to the existing production line, and reallocated duties of my staff”.

Kagabo believes that there is no better support an entrepreneur could have received from a financing partner. As a new Business Partners client, Kagabo expects Soft Group to benefit immensely from similar value-adding services provided by Business Partners through the Technical Assistance Facility. He believes that such exposure can help young entrepreneurs to better open their eyes to a world of opportunities.