Startup lessons from Kenya’s successful women job creators

Kenya’s top young women have triumphed over obstacles in their careers in tremendous ways.

From left: Ms Rehmat Sumra, Christine Khasina Odero, Kate Kibarah and Captain Irene Mutungi.

From left: Ms Rehmat Sumra, Christine Khasina Odero, Kate Kibarah and Captain Irene Mutungi.

Kenya’s top young women have triumphed over obstacles in their careers in tremendous ways.

The Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40 Women project awarded them last week. Each received trophies for outstanding work done in building the economy.

An interview, the women said they had to overcome corporate politics and competition in male dominated environments in order to succeed.

Panelists and award winners held an inspiring talk aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs and corporate leaders to excellence, during an awards dinner hosted at Safari Park Hotel.

Today’s world wants achievers so careers demand most from both men and women. This is despite the fact that women have to juggle between housekeeping and succeeding in their investments or career.

These women nonetheless learnt the tricks early and have managed to remain relevant, setting the pace for others.

The initiative picked the 40 women through nominations by their friends and relatives.

Nation Media Group chief executive Linus Gitahi, Business Daily managing editor Ochieng’ Rapuro and Kenyatta University Vice-Chancellor Professor Olive Mugenda were the main speakers at the event.

The annual competition honours women, appreciates professionalism and helps them move to the next level in their career.

“Nothing gives us great pleasure to see women from diverse backgrounds countrywide feature in the competition,” said Mr Gitahi, “when you become Top 40 Under 40 Women, you become part of the Nation Media Group family, we will therefore give you support.”

Mr Rapuro said the 40 women represent Kenya’s promise in the corporate world, research, science, the arts, theatre, professionalism and entrepreneurs.

Professor Olive Mugenda encouraged Top 40 Under 40 Women finalists to help build confidence in women startups from a tender age.

“Women are very shy. Out of the 40 women, very few nominated themselves. We should encourage women to stand up and be bold in their achievements,” Prof Mugenda said.

Ms Rehmat Sumra 27, director of Aayat entrepreneurs Ltd

Ms Rehmat Sumra was introduced to business at the age of 13, and emerged one of the country’s youngest CEO’s at 19.

Ms Sumra grew up to business, her mother managing Roma Company Ltd, supplying scrap metal to milling firms.

“During school holidays, I kept myself busy helping my mother to balance the books of accounts,” she told Money.

On completing school in 2004, Ms Sumra enrolled for a diploma in international commerce at the University of Toronto, Canada only to return home soon after to manage the family business when her mother suffered stroke.

Within two months, she became CEO. Ms Sumra took on the new challenge and introduced reforms. “I introduced education to the people in the sector through strengthening the Kenya Iron and Scrap Metal Association.

I cautioned on the dangers, and legal implications of vandalism, consequently reducing the rifts between dealers in the business and the management of national firms such as Kenya Power, Telkom Kenya and Kenya Railways, whose properties had suffered vandalism.”

Access to finance

Her input also saw the drafting of the Scrap Metal Act 2013. Ms Sumra’s proactive polices saw the turnover of the company rise from Sh40 million a year to over Sh400 million.

She has expanded the firm to Kisumu and Mombasa, while also graduating from the Catholic University with a degree in political science with a bias in economics.

Last year, Ms Sumra partnered with her husband to open Aayat Enterprises Ltd, a building and construction firm that aims to empower the youth.

Constrains that she believes business startups experience include access to finance. However, she says, this could be tackled by building relationships with banks and other lenders such as the government’s Uwezo Fund. If the business is not picking up, seek alternative ventures, she notes.

Competition is another hurdle but she says finding a selling point of your product can help as it makes the buyer identify with the good and create a brand loyalty.

Christine Khasina Odero, 33, founder of Supamamas

Supamamas is an event and marketing company that inspires, informs and connects mothers with expert brands.

Ms Odero holds a bachelor of commerce degree from United States International University and an MBA from Liverpool University.

Through her enterprise, Ms Odero was nominated by South Africa’s CEO Magazine as one of the finalists in the Most Influential Women In Business in Africa SME Category 2013, for which she is currently a finalist again this year.

Supamamas has faced its fair share of challenges. For instance, at its launch, the entrepreneur had limited funds. However this has been alleviated by creating various revenue streams.

Apart from events, Supamamas generates income from online advertising as well as from social media. The group also carries out surveys on behalf of companies that target mothers.

Getting mentors to help nurture her business was also not easy either. She overcame it by investing a lot in personal development through books and online research.

Being the only person operating the business at that point, she was very vulnerable and could easily burn out, but she thought it was normal to sleep less and work for long hours.

Quite often, her day used to start at 4.30am. With time, she now has a routine that balances both her personal life and professional life.

Kate Kibarah, 33, founder Kate’s organics

Kate Kibarah passion in nutrition led to the creation of Kate’s organics. Last year, she made it to the list of South Africa’s CEO Magazine’s most influential African women earning continental recognition.

Ms Kibarah studied clinical nutrition at the Caroline Alston Institute through correspondence before studying natural and digestive health in the UK. She is now back in school taking alternative medicine.

Kate’s Organics offers a healthy lifestyle advisory service. Its products are made from vitamin-rich leaves, flowers, roots and buds.

In her walk as a business woman, Ms Kibarah has faced several constraints; the first being how to successfully build her company.

She did not want to incur a lot of expenses, therefore she set targets and performance indicators to get a clear and precise picture of her working capital and cash flow.

By doing so, she managed to eliminate wastage. It was also very difficult to create her niche in a very competitive market dominated by global brands.

As she began the company, she lacked experience and contacts on consumer information, knowledge and understanding of organic foods, therefore she invested a lot on research to enrich her understanding.

Captain Irene Mutungi, 38, pilot Kenya Airways

Captain Mutungi is famed for being the first female pilot at Kenya Airways and the first woman to earn the title of captain in Africa. She is also the first pilot of the first Kenyan Dreamliner, Boeing 787.

Ms Mutungi is one of the finalists of Business Daily’s Top 40 Under 40 Women’s list. This marks the fourth time she is being feted for excellence in a male-dominated area.

While climbing the ladder in her career, she has faced several setbacks which she has successfully overcome.

She urges beginners in careers unoccupied by women, whether businesses or formal employment to strive hard in order to break the gender barrier.

Ms Mutungi challenges startups to come out of being “traditional thinkers” in general and convince their peers that they can perform.

To her, she also believes that a successful journey needs prayer, vision, letting go of what doesn’t matter, persistence, sheer hard work and determination.

They should also learn to solve problems, Ms Mutungi told Money.

Mariam Mpaata, 36, founder of Watoto Soccer awards

Watoto soccer awards is an annual awards event that celebrates soccer talent among children, connecting them with their mentors and exposing them to established football clubs.

Seven years ago, Ms Mpaata was a stay-at-home mother, and clueless about soccer. She had just relocated to Kenya with her family from her home country Uganda. This is because her husband landed a good job with an international firm.

The awards event was started on April 7, 2008, with five balls; it was then called Junior Stars Football Academy.

To her surprise, 15 boys from different schools and backgrounds turned up for training on the first day and this gave her hope. By the end of 2008, the team had grown to 30.

In the start, Ms Mpaata could hardly raise enough capital. She overcame this by realising that the more she puts a limit on it, the more it proved elusive. So she turned to her savings bearing in mind that even Rome was not built in one day.

Ms Mpaata also lacked knowledge in soccer. Starting up her venture was inspired by her then seven-year-old son Imran who could not keep his feet off the ball.

She tackled this by surrounding herself with experts. And today, she believes that a successful entrepreneur recognises the importance of delegating.




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