Taylor Smith

BY Taylor Smith  •  Development and Community Manager

Entrepreneurship Changes Everything: The Year of Accelerate Academy

“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.

**

Want to meet the rest of the Fellows? Check out The Accelerate Academy Page which features all the stories and businesses from the first Accelerate cohort, along with information on The Accelerate Academy and future plans.


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