Oct 11, 2016

When a woman does "a man's" job

“That’s a man’s job,” people told her -- a daily routine of pre-dawn wake up calls to build chicken coops, carrying baskets of eggs for door-to-door sales, late nights spent analyzing the cost of feed.

It was a path Scovia’s family and friends weren’t expecting her to take -- starting her own poultry business -- selling eggs to neighbors and small stores as a way to supplement her income and save for her future.

Scovia already has an unlikely story compared to most women in her community -- she went to University, graduated with a degree in IT and even got a job straight out of school. ‘But starting her own business?’ people questioned. ‘That would mean stepping into an arena few women have entered.’

Because being an entrepreneur is risky.
It’s vulnerable.
It’s exciting.

All these things are exactly what spurred on Scovia’s desire to improve her future, and that of her family and country, through entrepreneurship.

**

In August 2015, Scovia, along with 100 of Rwanda’s brightest young entrepreneurs, were invited to the first Accelerate Summit. For three days, successful business men and women from East Africa and the U.S. trained on skills and development essential for entrepreneurship.

From that group, the top 27, including Scovia, were selected to be in the first cohort of Fellows of our newest program: The Accelerate Academy. For the next eight months, the Fellows met with leaders who taught about techniques, ethics and collaboration. Mentors and staff sat one-on-one with each Fellow, pouring over budgets and projections, helping to create investment-ready business plans. Once approved, $500 of seed capital was given to help start or further develop the companies.

Beyond business skills, The Accelerate Academy provided a space for the Fellows to speak openly about their backgrounds, goals and fears. Instead of competition, there was collaboration – a family-like network who came to open-house events, sent inspirational quotes and funny comics at random, and showed up for celebrations and family crises.

After months of preparation and training, the Fellows arrived to the culmination point of The Academy: the Accelerate Finale.

If you’ve seen the television show “Shark Tank,” you’re familiar with the concept of an entrepreneur pitching their business idea to investors. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. For The Accelerate Finale Pitch, a team of international investors traveled to Kigali, ready to assess the Fellows’ business plans and offer investment opportunities, if they sensed potential.

For the entrepreneur, there’s a lot on the line in this moment -- the future of their business, their dreams, and their reputation.

For Scovia, the stakes were high. Without additional investment, her company’s growth could potentially stall, or even fold. Scovia’s motivation is far more than dollar signs or bragging rights. What motivates her is find a solution to the problem of malnutrition that exists in her country. The investors’ decision would not only dictate her future, but many others, as well.

The morning of the finale, there was nothing left to do except trust in the months of hard work she had put in to her business and pitch presentation. Before she walked out the door to head to the venue, Scovia turned to her parents and said, “Today I’m putting on a suit, and I’m going to bring home the money.”

Before the Finale began, Scovia gathered with the Fellows to pray, last sips of coffee were taken, the opening lines of her business pitch recited for the final time.

When her name was called to present, Scovia stepped up to the podium and clicked to her first slide. She took a deep breath, “Hello. My name is Scoiva and I’m the founder of LALA Egg Farm.”

Scovia’s presentation was so well received she was offered the opportunity to share again before the entire Finale audience. As the Fellows and investors took notes, Scovia’s smile grew. She was in her element, living her dream, paving her own way.

**

After the top 12 Fellows finished their presentations, investors announced their selections. To everyone’s surprise, all 12 Fellows received investment offers! Scovia was offered a loan from Aspen Heights, a partner of The Accelerate Academy.

As the Accelerate Finale came to a close, the Fellows and investors shared plates of food, laughter and personal stories. Watching the Fellows encourage, support and network with one another, it was clear to see that Rwanda is home to a rising generation with big talent -- and better yet, a generation whose motivation stems from a desire to see their families, communities and economy rise.

How could you not get excited about Scovia? For a young woman with no prior business background, she was able to start her own poultry company and plans to triple growth over the next three years -- numbers she is well on her way to hitting.

How could you not feel hopeful when you see 19 year olds like Yvette? She started a clean water delivery service employing 16 bike couriers who supply clean water to 100 homes daily, in addition to the 300,000 liters sold at water kiosks each month -- a service that will increase the health and longevity of her country.

How could you not see potential in a young woman like Jeanne d’Arc? With her breakthrough transportation solution, a mobile bus ticket application, she will potentially impact 250,000 Rwandans daily.

These stories are only a few examples of the potential shown by the first cohort of The Accelerate Academy. As the Fellows continue on their journey, and as the new cohort of Accelerate Fellows will be selected in October 2016, we’re excited to see more relationships established, more businesses started, and more jobs created. Through the Accelerate Fellows’ example, we believe entrepreneurship can change everything.

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Jul 12, 2016

Becoming Role Models

It was a long walk to school - down dirt roads, past bikers and cars, during rainstorms and under the hot sun.

For Berthine, the dozens of kilometers spent walking to school each week were worth it. She would have walked a dozen more each day, if she had to.

In fact, it was on these treks that she would daydream about building a school in her village.‘What if children didn’t have to spend hours walking to and from school? I wonder if more children would attend school if it was right outside their door?’

If Berthine wanted to realize her dreams, she would have to pursue her education. To make real change, she would need to become an engineer.

Not far away from where Berthine grew up was a girl named Samantha. Like Berthine, Samantha also had a vision of becoming an engineer.

It was an uncommon goal for girls in their communities: to create effective infrastructure, and be part of Rwanda’s rising economy. But it was a desire they couldn’t let go of. Holding fast to their dreams was a risk worth taking.

In 2015, Berthine and Samantha became These Numbers Have Faces scholars, studying Civil Engineering at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

Samantha and Berthine have excelled in their courses, but they still lack female engineering role models.

As it would happen, a team of role models was coming to them.

In February 2016, a group from Aspen Heights, an Austin-based real estate development company, and their non-profit, Aspen Heights Awake, traveled to Rwanda to meet with These Numbers Have Faces scholars and fellows.

Aspen Heights partnered with These Numbers Have Faces in 2015 to support the launch ofThe Accelerate Academy entrepreneurship program. Greg Vestri, Aspen Heights partner and executive advisor, had already envisioned a partnership in Rwanda years before.

As Greg describes it, Aspen Heights and Aspen Heights Awake are centered on human development in the U.S., and beyond. Seeing the drive and character of young Rwandans, Greg wondered if there might come a day when Rwandan students could travel to the U.S. to experience American culture and business, and for the Aspen Heights team to experience Rwandan culture through the students.

On the final day of Aspen Heights’ week in Rwanda, Greg and team made a special announcement: summer internships for two These Numbers Have Faces scholars, Samantha and Berthine.

“I was so emotional, with tears in my eyes, because I was surprised to hear that I would be an intern at Aspen Heights,” Berthine said. “My fellows were also surprised, and they reacted by clapping and giving me many hugs. My family congratulated me. They are all so proud.”

In June, Samantha and Berthine traveled to the U.S. -their first time on an airplane- beginning a chapter of their journey they didn’t know was possible. This summer they're part of team of engineers who will be teaching them skills and business practices that will make them highly competitive and competent engineers in Rwanda.

In the years to come, when the next generation of girls are looking for role models in the engineering world, they will be able to look to Samantha and Berthine.

“From this internship I hope to discover more about engineering from a country that’s so developed,” Samantha said. “I’m looking forward to learning about improvements I can bring back to my country and contribute to its development. I believe I will discover many things about myself from living so many miles away from home.”

Jun 8, 2016

Accelerate Academy Finale!

Yvette Posing with Two Investors
Yvette Posing with Two Investors

After 8 months of training and mentorship through The Accelerate Academy, the first class of Accelerate Fellows gathered together for a full day of training and celebration. 12 of the top Fellows presented their businesses to a panel of international investors for the Pitch Finale, and 11 of them secured investments! These entrepreneurs have businesses ranging from chicken farming, to clean water delivery, to mobile phone bus ticket apps. 

Beyond the loans that will drastically elevate these businesses, the relationships with their new partners will grow the Accelerate Fellows in ways that show them they have potential; they were meant to be leaders; they are part of Rwanda's rising economy.

A star from our finale was our youngest fellow, Yvette, who recently started the IRIBA water project. Her water project ‘IRIBA water’ which locally translates into ‘a clean water source’ aims at providing clean water solutions to people living in rural areas of Rwanda.

When Yvette’s family relocated to the small community of Kayonza, she realized that access to water was a true challenge for many people. Not only were water sources miles away, but even the cost of water was unattainable for many.

“Twenty liters would cost Rwf500 or even higher. That made me think a lot about finding solutions to this problem. Water was already available from the sources such as springs and lakes but I made more research on making it both safe and affordable for people,” she explains.

IRIBA Water Project collects water, treats it with a UV purifier, and distributes it to households throughout Kayonza using bicycles. Currently Yvette supplies safe and clean water to 100 households on a daily basis, but with this new investment she plans to expand operations to serve at least 300,000 homes each day.

Thanks to your support and your investment in the Accelerate Academy Rwanda’s infrastructure and economy are changing from the ground up. Community needs are being met, individuals are gaining employment, and young people are empowered to fulfill their dreams of running a business.

 
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