previously published; dates may no longer be relevant
Our Business Development Center (BDC) was designed to provide both training and after graduation services. One of the key aspects of the Center is networking—introducing graduates to a network of mutually beneficial business relationships.
Mathilde’s story highlights the power of networking. Mathilde’s business idea for the class was home delivery of groceries. Her business has morphed and grown since she got started only a few months ago. She opened a café as a base for her operations (Mathilde on right, hired a woman from her village ministry to help run the café).
When Crystal (cohort 1) bought a restaurant, she asked Mathilde to supply all her fruits and vegetables. Mathilde goes to the market at 5 a.m. to do the buying. Aline (Cohort 2) connected her to a good mushroom supplier (Aline is a mushroom expert for the Dept of Agriculture and hopes to start a mushroom farm soon).
Mathilde learned of another opportunity through Assumpta (cohort 2) who was working as HR director of a large company that mills flour outside of town. They needed someone to run their cafeteria to serve lunch to 200 people a day, because they are far from any restaurants. Ever the entrepreneur, Mathilde teamed with Jean Marie, the chef at Solace Guest House where we stay, to prepare a 3-tiered menu—for Execs, for middle workers, and for janitors, guards and low-paid staff.
How did Mathilde win this contract? It addition to her excellent business offering, three things helped her:
1) In October, Mathilde attended the leadership seminar that the BDC ran with the help of two Chick fil A operators for leaders of 19 of Rwanda’s largest companies. Assumpta brought a team from Azam, the flour milling company. Most didn’t speak much English. Mathilde befriended a woman and spoke French with her. That woman turned out to be the sister-in-law of the CEO of Azam;
2) Dona, in-country rep for the BDC, recruited BDC grads to participate in a business competition sponsored by Inspire Africa. Mathilde participated and was featured on the video that showed on TV throughout East Africa. In fact she received calls from Kenya and Uganda as a result. But the main benefit was that when she bid on the Azam contract, they saw her as a “big, important company featured on TV”, in addition to seeing her as a personal friend of the company;
3) Finally, Mathilde created her 3-tiered menu with a $1 lunch for the low-paid workers, vs. $5 for the high paid workers. The CEO said, “I can see you have a big heart for the poor. I like that. You have the contract.”
Azam has a fully equipped kitchen with all the cooking, serving, and eating utensils, so Mathilde has no equipment costs for this contract. Mathilde supplies the food, cooking, and service. She will employ several women from her village ministry to wash dishes. And, based on this contract, she is bidding on others—UNESCO, Telecom House, etc.