|June with dignitaries at various events targeting SMEs. [PHOTOS: JENIPHER WACHIE AND COURTESY/ STANDARD]|
By SYLVIA WAKHISI
At the age of 20, June Gathoni made a bold step that would see her life, and that of many others, transformed greatly. She started her own company, Next Generation Technology, an ICT firm that would see her brush shoulders with different classes of people who sought her services. Talk of ambition.
“Right from the time I was in high school, I envisioned becoming an entrepreneur. I had a notebook where I would write down the kind of businesses I would start. Little did I know that in a few years, my dream would come to pass,” says the 33-year-old.
“My business focused on sales and service of ICT equipment. Starting and running a business at such a young age had its fair share of challenges but I had people who supported me.”
She had practically no money when she started out and relied on getting goods on credit then using the money from her clients to pay her creditors.
“I got my first local purchase order of Sh120,000 a year after starting my business, but I refused to be discouraged. I was soon supplying my products to various companies and that kept me going.”
However, she did not stop there. She closed her ICT business in 2008 to focus on helping others grow their businesses. In 2009, June teamed up with Wanjiru Njenga to start the Small and Medium Entrepreneurial Resource Centre which is involved in entrepreneurship development and promotion. Their starting capital was about a million shillings.
“There are two groups of entrepreneurs; made and inborn. I was born an entrepreneur and have found great fulfilment in it,” says June.
The centre, based in Nairobi’s Hurlingham area, is not only a thriving business (now worth Sh40 million), but has also helped thousands of entrepreneurs grow their own businesses.
As a co-founder and the chief executive officer of the centre, June oversees the day-to-day running of activities. There is a team of ten employees, and when there is an event requiring more manpower, professional personnel from different fields are outsourced.
Passionate about entrepreneurship and economic empowerment through business, June is involved in finding ideas that are easily adaptable to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), hence creating sustainable livelihoods and job creation, and contributing to the growth of the economy.
The centre offers advice to entrepreneurs about business opportunities. It also offer services such as business plan writing, systems management, marketing campaigns, brand management, public relations and consultancy, all at a fee.
Their principle objective is to support SMEs every step of the way in implementing systems and best business practices that will transform today’s start-ups into tomorrow’s corporations.
June says: “Kenyans love to do business; even those employed are likely to have a business on the side. Our resource centre was designed to come up with programmes that enlighten and empower business owners on a wide array of issues.”
It has incorporated programmes such as SME business training, an online resource centre, and the SME Business Club which currently has more than 2,000 members. The SME Revolving Fund helps businesses expand, the SME Business Centre of Excellence and SME Business Clinics and Coaching assist aspiring entrepreneurs by nudging them in the right direction and teaching them the ins and outs of running their own establishments.
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“Our core mandate is entrepreneurship development. We have also put in place special projects such as Miliki Boda Boda which helps young people to buy motorcycles through hire purchase. The Shamba na Kilimo project encourages women and young people to take up agricultural activities such as rabbit and poultry keeping and greenhouse farming,” says June.
The centre also holds annual fairs and conferences, training seminars, workshops and forums that bring together financiers, companies with business opportunities and consultants for SMEs.
Despite her successes, June attests to the fact that there have been numerous challenges, especially financially.
“We have extensive programmes that require financing. But my co-director and I resolved that at any time we lacked money to fund the programmes, we would dig into our pockets and ensure everything went on as required.
“There is also the aspect of the youth wanting everything instantly; they open a business today and drive their own cars tomorrow. Convincing them that everything has its own time is quite a task. People need to understand that if you get into business because of the money, then you are in the wrong place,” she says.
Does she feel she has accomplished what she wanted?
“I am not even close to achieving my goals. My goal is to change more than a million people through business. It is my calling and an ongoing journey which I am determined to complete,” June says.
The firm is looking into expanding into the Eastern African market, as well as registering the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development.