They say talent exists everywhere but opportunities don’t. This statement stands true in every part of the world where entrepreneurs like Yvonne exists. Yvonne Otieno is an alumna who participated in Miller Center’s 2018 Global Social Benefit Institute (GSBI®) Online Accelerator program. She is a farmer from Kenya who embarked on the journey of entrepreneurship to change the livelihoods of fellow farmers. Yvonne’s enterprise, Miyonga Fresh Greens, exports fresh fruits and vegetables from Kenya to the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Greece, Ireland and South Africa. Miyonga started exporting from a horticultural farm with 10 acres located in Lukenya, Machakos County and expanded to become a fully-established exporter with access to a network of 5,000+ growers with over 200 hectares of land.
How did this happen? Let’s hear from Yvonne.
The lifelong journey of exploration
Starting and managing a business most commonly originates when an entrepreneur identifies a way to solve a problem or serve a need. What’s unexpected is that, once ignited, one’s entrepreneurial spirit permeates and turns into a lifelong endeavor. To move forward, a founder has to trust her instinct when it comes to decision making and, in those moments, there may not be any indication whether her choice will work out favorably or turn out to be disastrous. The journey is a roller coaster ride of emotions sprinkled with moments of unexpected wisdom. Once Miyonga Fresh Greens achieved its initial milestones, Yvonne regretted not dreaming bigger. (Well, don’t we all?) “We executed what we set out to do. We have grown from farmers to exporters, diversified from just fresh produce to value addition of fresh fruits to dried fruits and fruit powder and were positively impacting our community by creating employment. But, my only regret is not dreaming bigger at that time,” reflected Yvonne.
Perhaps, the point to ponder here is that even the best-laid plans can go astray. Even though Yvonne carefully crafted a solid business plan, there was a stark difference when it came to the first round of financial actuals. The first planted product was a failure and, to her great frustration,, nothing was making sense to Yvonne. “There are days everything looks bright and there are days when you aren’t quite sure anymore why you are still in business. Our business began farming on a 1.5-acre piece of land growing green beans, or Haricot verts, as commonly known in Europe. Our first planting of the product made huge losses. When preparing the business case, all numbers seemed to make sense and I just couldn’t understand why we were seeing losses,” she shared.
The phase with patience, persistence, and passion
Patience, persistence, and passion make an unbeatable combination for success. When plans take an unexpected detour, entrepreneurs do not quit; they stay patient, become persistent and use their passion to explore the avenues to get back on course. In Yvonne’s case, her business found hope in remodeling the entire business plan and transitioning from just farming to an agricultural business. Since then, Miyonga has won multiple accolades including the 2016 Gender in Innovation and Agriculture, Social Impact award for women and top 50 innovators in Africa.
Besides the initial USD$10,000 seed capital Miyonga Fresh Greens received as an award, it has grown organically and is currently on its first round for investments. Yet, the journey has been quite challenging with a lot of questions that used to keep Yvonne awake at night. “One of the challenges we faced was where to find investors? Another was what type of funding should we seek: equity or debt? If equity, how much equity should we be giving up as a company? And last, because our business cares about positively impacting the community, how does our organization measure its social impact? Those are questions that we struggled with,” listed Yvonne.
Paving the way to find the “right” investor
Making the decision to let someone invest in your company is harder than anything for a founding entrepreneur. You find people showing interest in your idea, but do they really believe in it? Do they trust your passion or commitment towards it, or are they just after the ROI? These questions linger in every entrepreneur’s mind when they are seeking funds.
At Miller Center’s GSBI program, we prepare social entrepreneurs for investment, scaling their business and growth. 93% of the participants in the 2016 GSBI Accelerator cohort raised funding within six months after the program concluded. We match Silicon Valley executive mentors who accompany selected social entrepreneurs for the duration of their time in the program. Oftentimes, this accompaniment goes beyond the program dates to develop the operational excellence and investment readiness required to scale impact. Yvonne benefitted from her mentors’ expertise and now understands how to measure the impact for her business and what to look for in investors before shaking any hands for investment.
She said, “After going through the GSBI Online Accelerator program this year, we now have an understanding of our metrics and how to measure the impact. We have a living investment profile and now know what type of investors we should be speaking with. We keep a database of potential investors and maintain an internal checklist on what type of investor would best fit our company. Before the program, we would get excited every time any investor showed interest and we would share information. Before long we would see our ideas being implemented by others.
Right now, we still get excited, but we now approach fundraising like dating: you have to find the right fit. Plus, we are more protective of our innovations. Through GSBI, we also learned about a pro bono legal services resource; we applied and qualified. We are in discussions with potential investors and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) is a prerequisite before we engage in any discussion.”
From a farmer to every entrepreneur in the world
“I just want to say: you can do it! If this farmer with little or no business experience is now contracting other farmers and impacting the livelihoods of 1,500 other farmers in Kenya, and exporting to five different destinations in Europe, you can do it, too.
How will you do it? Know your mission and focus. If you hold a magnifying glass over a pile of dry leaves on the hottest day of the year with the sun shining overhead, nothing will happen as long as you keep moving the magnifying glass. But as soon as you hold the magnifying glass still and focus the rays of the sun on just one leaf, the whole pile of leaves will erupt into flames. Take one day at a time and solve one challenge at a time.
Learn: Make use of the numerous opportunities available to empower you with the skills needed to run a business. The GSBI is just one of those programs that changed my perspective.
Lastly, you will fall 1,000 times and you will get up 1,001 times. Trust your instinct or intuition. It’s a God-given compass to guide you.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement new research, initiatives, and projects to help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.
Photo credits: Miyonga Fresh Greens