With poor infrastructure, pervasive corruption, and widespread poverty, being an entrepreneur in a developing country in Africa can be quite a challenge. But to one Rwandan, a problem became an opportunity. Oliver Nizeyimana started a bus transportation company in the year before he graduated with a degree in management. As a student of the National University of Rwanda in Butare, it would take him a very long time to get to class, and he had an idea to start a bus company that stressed punctuality. He saw an opportunity and took advantage, but it wasn’t without many obstacles and problems to overcome.
According to him, one of the biggest initial challenges he faced was punctuality. In many African countries, regional buses do not depart until they are full but he wanted to do something different. The concept that time was valuable did not really sink in Rwanda, and letting people know this was a great challenge. He also faced the typical problems that a young entrepreneur would face in a developing country. How was he going to take his idea and get the financing to make it come to fruition? Being as young as he was, he wasn’t able to get a loan from the local bank. Networking was key for Oliver. He met the boss of Akagera Motors, a branch of Toyota in Rwanda. Oliver let him know his idea, and before he knew it, he was able to secure buses on credit for his business. His family helped him raise the down-payment for the loan, and he started off with two buses. Now he has over 60, and a staff of around 250.
Oliver is not satisfied with his company’s solid domestic growth. His long term vision is to expand his business internationally, to countries like neighboring Uganda and more distant Kenya. With that expansion brings new challenges, but none that Oliver cannot handle.
So what does it take to be a successful entrepreneur in a developing country? Having a strong vision for what you want to achieve is key. In order to raise the capital needed, you’ll need a solid business plan based on a sound study of the market. Another is being able to work closely with your employees and the customer. Oliver can sometimes be seen on the buses, talking with the drivers and the customers and asking about their experiences. Being a risk-taker is also very important. If you’re not willing to take a risk, then your idea will never take off. It is great to see success in Rwanda, and with strong government policies and the fact it’s getting easier to do business there, this country may be the leader in African entrepreneurship for years to come.