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  • Enhancing Market Access for Manufacturing SMEs


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The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. In the case of Nicodem Mayison, Director and Founder of Palma Group Limited, he decided not to give up on his business which had been disrupted by war.

Since 2010 Palma Group Limited, a supply, and logistics firm, had been operating mainly in South Sudan, though registered in Kenya as well. Business was good until conflict broke out in 2016, causing the entrepreneur to lose about $ 1.2 million worth of equipment and ongoing contracts, leading to a shutdown.

While waiting for the conflict to be resolved, Nick launched Palma Organic Farm, a subsidiary of Palma Group Limited, resident in Kenya, focusing on climate action by neutralizing carbon emission through activities that help absorb carbon from the atmosphere. 

In 2018, they launched the business in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), venturing into the carbon markets.

While outsourcing financial solutions and partners for his business, Nick came across Invest in Africa’s (IIA) Investor Readiness Program on social media. He seized the opportunity to help his business recover from the loss sustained as a result of the war.

According to Nick, the program was necessary for his business as it was challenging to get investors due to a lack of a financial and an accounting regime, which led to poor records keeping. Nick needed to acquire knowledge to put in place a proper documentation structure and streamline the operations to attract investors.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, about 22 percent of Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) do not keep any formal records of their operations. This poses a major strain in attracting potential investors, adding to these businesses' access to finance gap.  

“The program helped us in developing proper records of our financials models. We also created an accounting routine and developed policies and a human resource management structure,’’ said Nick. 

He added that Palma Organic Farm is in the best place to implement sizeable projects while ensuring better documentation. He confirms that the organization is now investor-ready and has continued to fast-track proper policy implementation. We believe that in the near future, we will be sustainable because investors can now have confidence in investing in our venture.

As an entrepreneur, Nick realizes the importance of streamlining the business operations to ensure that most of the requirements of investment criteria are in place. He learned how to revamp company pitching materials, which improved their marketing, and clients are already appreciating.

“Our business capacity has improved thanks to the structures we have put in place. By recognizing the need to capture information about the business and the market, we learned how to collate, process, and use information. We have been keen to track our business activities and use the collected information to plan and predict the future. In addition, this provides the investors with much-needed information to make an investment decision,” iterated Nick.

Nick developed a bespoke business plan through the initiative, which was implemented professionally within the program. He also developed business models per sector and designed a financial plan per program to serve the wide area of operation the organization is in.

As a result of the capacity, we have enlisted from IIA’s Investor Readiness Program, we plan to fully establish the organization in Kenya and supervise the other offices in South Sudan and DRC from here.

Nick’s advice to other entrepreneurs is that ‘information is power’. He advises them to be accountable for all operations and be keen to keep the necessary records. This, in turn, will help plan and predict the future and present an investor-ready business.

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With more than 15 years of experience in the Marketing Industry and being the best at her job, it seemed like a good time to switch gears. Margaret Kositany was ready to start her own marketing agency. In 2016 she launched New Heights Consultants Ltd, a modern digital marketing agency that helps small business brands grow. Little did she know that transitioning from the corporate world to entrepreneurship was a different ballgame.

Moving from formal employment to running her own business, thinking about employees and where to get business was an uphill battle, especially in a cut-throat industry like Digital Marketing. She needed guidance on how to corner the market.

In 2020, she discovered Invest in Africa (IIA) through social media and registered for the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Recovery and Resilience Program, an initiative launched by IIA in partnership with Mastercard Foundation, that fronted the survival and the building back better of SMEs at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

IIA, in collaboration with industry experts, delivered personalized business development programs through; Virtual Masterclasses, Business Coaching, peer-to-peer mentorship, and an investor readiness program.

Margaret was paired with a certified business coach who offered fresh ideas on growing and better positioning the business.

The pandemic saw the digital marketing industry becoming more competitive with the accelerated adoption of digital technologies in various economic sectors in the Kenyan market. In addition, digitization has become an integral part of product and service delivery, and it is a key driver of the growth of trade in the country and the continent.

“I learnt I need to stand out, step out and sell the business by having an online presence. I need to network and be seen and heard in industry related conversations and webinars,” Margaret shared in the interview.

Another key lesson she got on staying ahead of the pack was the importance of redefining her target segment by narrowing down on the specific SMEs the business could focus on and settling with the low-end group of SMEs who are often overlooked.

The coaching, according to Margaret, helped bring in more clients, thus more revenue, and positioned the business in a sustainable growth trajectory. Adopting the lessons and revamping the company profile gave her confidence to share her work and source for clients actively.

In the future, she is looking to expand the business by having more clients and more in-house consultants who will work together with her in bringing more business.

Working with a business coach was eye-opening for Margaret. She advises other entrepreneurs to register for business coaching as the certified coach being neutral to the business can see into your business from a different angle. With an understanding of the industry, a coach can provide suggestions on how to grow your business.

The SME Recovery and Resilience program by IIA is still ongoing with diversification to incorporate additional partners and collaborators, which is focused on producing more impact to SMEs by enhancing their access to finance, skills training opportunities, and new markets. 

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Invest in Africa in partnership with the Business Scouts for Development Programme (BSFD) have  launched a market linkage program for manufacturing Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in natural food clusters.BSFD is a programme commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

The program will drive capacity building to upscale SMEs and enhance competitive access to market opportunities.Currenty, the East Africa Community (EAC) market is gaining increasing importance for value-add agricultural products made in Eastern Africa. In addition, there is also an increasing openness in the community to buying “products made in EAC. This  initiative ,therefore, targets manufacturing SMEs in Kenya and Uganda in natural food clusters focusing on Avocado, Shea Butter, Coconut, and Moringa. 

This translates into a high potential for medium-sized agro-processors and the need to augment their capacity to take up the available opportunities. Through successful linkage to buyers seeking to source locally, this initiative by IIA and the BSFD programme will jumpstart an accelerated growth of the target SMEs. Prior capacity building will guarantee the sustainability of these SMEs in accessing and delivering to available opportunities in the longer term. 

Under this initiative, we will leverage IIA’s flagship business membership platform Biashara.Now  to enable market linkage by allowing the SMEs to use the digital traceability tools on the platform to make sure buyers can trace and understand their products, which will enhance efficient engagement and transaction.  

Other capabilities which will be delivered under the capacity building component include good manufacturing practices and new product development. This will ensure that the SMEs can meet the required market standards and efficiently undertake demand-driven introduction of new products. Importantly , the initiative is in line with IIA’s goal of linking SMEs with $100M worth of contracts and creating up to one million jobs by 2025. It has come in handy to ensure collaborative efforts in supporting SMEs to competitively access industries and adequately contribute to value chain development. This, in turn, translates to job opportunities generated through the resultant enterprise growth.   

“Through this initiative, we hope to create an economy that thrives for everyone. This aligns with our purpose of prospering the African economy through sustainable development: where we all participate in trade as entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers, driving economic growth through entrepreneurship and business linkages”, said Terry Kinyua, the COO and acting Country Manager at IIA-Kenya during the project kick-off with beneficiary SMEs.    

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