One question we get asked a lot is why did we choose to start our business in Rwanda?
Kountable assesses market opportunities based on a balance of government policies, business friendly environment, anti corruption regulation and technology access. But to answer the question about “Why Rwanda” specifically we need to look back at recent history.
In 1999, after managing to break a 50 year cycle of violence that culminated in the horrific 1994 genocide, the Rwandan government set out some big goals to bring stability and a long term vision to the war torn country—these goals were outlined in a document called Vision 2020 and much progress has been made during the last 15 years towards their implementation, leading to a growth revolution for the country and its economy.
As part of these goals, the government committed to support and develop its entrepreneurial middle class—widely acknowledged as the key to creating a strong middle income economy. They also committed to and have achieved an efficient state with a low corruption, SME friendly policies, and a sound technological infrastructure.
These developments have created a uniquely positive environment for entrepreneurial growth, making it a role model among emerging economies. Rwandan entrepreneurs are tech savvy, internationally connected, and well supported by a government that believes in entrepreneurship.
All these factors and the market opportunity made Rwanda a logical place to launch Kountable. However, we must give credit to a special group of entrepreneurs in its capital, Kigali, for helping us really see the potential of what Kountable could be in Rwanda.
We were fortunate to be able to develop the business model for Kountable and then run our pilot program with a group of exceptional Rwandan entrepreneurs who are part of the Bigger Future Program, led by David Ormesher, a successful American entrepreneur from Chicago. David has been traveling to Kigali every quarter to coach these entrepreneurs for five years, and my co-founder Catherine had been involved in developing Bigger Future from the start. When we needed a place to test the initial idea that would become Kountable on a real group of developing world entrepreneurs, the Bigger Future group was a natural fit, and the group’s enthusiastic response and willingness to share about their challenges with financing made Kountable what it is today.
On hearing their stories over the course of a year, it was clear that these entrepreneurs were ready to grow much faster than available access to finance would allow. It was a headwind that they would do almost anything to get around, even taking financing at very unfavorable rates in some cases just to be able to execute high-profile deals to prove their capability. Affordable financing was the major missing ingredient in their ability to take on the bigger contracts and projects that would allow them to expand more quickly, hire and train more staff, and develop capacity and learn. In doing so, they would significantly multiply their contribution to Rwanda’s economic & social growth goals.
By working with Kountable, the entrepreneurs we’ve partnered with have been able to keep more business inside Rwanda. Many are providing vital supplies for hospitals, schools and government agencies, allowing these institutions to provide better services for Rwandans. Some of these projects could have been done by foreign companies, but then the know-how, employment and increased capability would not be generated inside Rwanda. Investing in Rwandan entrepreneurs is investing in Rwanda’s future.
Kountable has now evaluated over 500 small to medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and has partnered with 30 on projects delivering $5 million in gross revenues to these businesses and into the Rwandan economy. Our entrepreneurs there have worked with us in good faith and many are now repeat customers. The challenges we’ve overcome together have helped us strengthen our model and build better tools to make the process easier and more efficient for all. Rwanda has been a great place for us to learn and grow our model while having a significant positive impact.
In the weekend of our official launch in Kigali, we received requests for $12M US in fundable projects. This was the tip of the iceberg in terms of demand for what Kountable offers. The Rwandan institutions we have approached to partner with us to better address this demand have been open and willing to explore new possibilities, and highly supportive of our growth and presence. They understand what this kind of financing can do for the country and its base of entrepreneurs and how important this is in order to reach their ambitious 2020 development goals. As Kountable scales and branches out into other markets, we look forward to continuing to play a role in Rwanda’s growth and development by supporting its inspiring and capable community of entrepreneurs.
Hear from Julian Kyula, a lifelong entrepreneur and expert in the credit and tech sectors, about the biggest challenges facing small businesses in emerging markets.