By Mahlet Fasil @MahletFasil
Addis Abeba – When it comes to grassroots incubation of startups from youth entrepreneurs, especially in a country where about one-third of the population belongs to the age group of 15 to 29, Ethiopia is yet to go a very long mile to achieve higher productivity from untapped youth potential.
Brilliant creative skills emerge now and then from various parts of the country, but not all of them got entrepreneurship or a means to interpret their creativity into consumable products or services. Accessibility to improvisation production platforms and financial resources are also still challenging for many who got smart ideas and prototypes. There is some initiative working on incubation and capacity building of youth entrepreneurs in the country, nonetheless, their outreach and accessibility are limited despite their importance. There is however one company working to integrate all elements of the area to narrow the gap between the youth innovators and all the resources they need to transform their creativities into successful results.
Sumuni Creative Solution PLC is established with a mission of building pioneering online business development, due diligence, and matchmaking platform where all the entrepreneurial ecosystem key players work together in an integrated and impactful way. According to the company’s vision, Sumuni is envisioned to serve as a gateway for private investors from around the world to get access to and invest in the best investable start-ups and small businesses in Ethiopia and Africa.
The man behind Sumuni, top in the leadership is Biruk Girma. Biruk takes us back to tell us his story on his course to be where he is now and be able to help pave the way for many other young entrepreneurs emerging with brilliant creativities.
Biruk, founder and CEO of Sumuni, was born in Oromia Region Wollega Zone and grew up in a different region in Ethiopia because of his family work situation.
“My father was a teacher and during my childhood, we lived in different regions because he moved to different regions throughout Ethiopia over his work.” After completing high school, Biruk joined the Adama Science and Technology University to study mechanical engineering.
He says during his time at university he thought of starting his own business. “When I was a 4th-year student I was thinking about how I can start my own business. At that time my family was living in Gurage Zone, Wolkite town and at one time I went on a family vacation I noticed something in Wolkite that 70% of the milk supply was sourced from the neighboring region.”
Biruk says something struck his mind giving him a boost to plan to build milk supply in the town, despite his limitations on knowledge or money to begin the business plan. Then he had to go to Adama and Addis Abeba to get detailed information from the people involved in this work.
“I tried my best but it didn’t work well as much as I so I needed, then I decide to ask government offices to give me information on how the government-assisted business association is established. From there I wrote my business plan, yet financial resources remained the biggest challenge,” says Biruk as he recalls the early days of his endeavors to establish a startup business firm.
As he learned that at that time, he had to invest around 500,000 birrs to start milk supply, he knew that he had to find an investor (partner), which is also another big challenge itself. “I was just a university student I only had a plane, but not the money that the plan needed at that time. I couldn’t get peoples’ trust when I start taking my plan to people even to whom I knew in Wolkite town, and the response I received was not good,” he recalls.
Despite all the challenges he was facing concerning financing his plan, he didn’t give up and perused his search for funds even by the next year. When he was a 5th-year university student he met one potential investor who came from Italy and he explain to him about his business. However, the investor promised him that he would work with his milk supply business only after Biruk joined his other small business and see its profitability together.
“After my graduation in 2017, I started working with him at his business that was involved in the transportation of construction materials by truck.” Biruk continues “I always go wherever the truck goes. My all family thought that I was working in the office as I carry my laptop when leaving home, and when the truck had work outside the town I told my family that I had filed work.” Biruk recalls that during those days the political instability was getting at its peak and many problems were surfacing as roads were closed, and trucks and other cars burned everywhere. Eventually, the construction material supply business was closed and the owner sold the truck. His promise crumbled.
In 2017 his two university friends told him that an initiative called Blue Moon was launching an entrepreneurship competition and had started accepting proposals to participate in the competition. The competition emphasized promising problem-solving proposals that promote the creation of employment opportunities for many while being profitable.
He and his friends registered “I and my friends registered in the Blue Moon business contest for waste management and compose a business plan. After a series of competitions, we made it in the top four in 2018.” Biruk continues, “Even though we managed to enter the top four listing of the competition finalist, at that time our business plan could not take us anywhere be invested on due to the volatile political situation intensified throughout most parts of the country.” However, Biruk was grateful for the good training they have gotten through Blue Moon.
The ups and downs he witnessed made Biruk realize the magnitude of challenges that innovative youths face not even before they are close to the resources they needed in their course to be startup businesses. “At that time I realize that it was difficult for young entrepreneurs to find a financial partner (investors) and other resources they need.”
That was the cause for the inception of Sumuni and it was born dedicated to helping startups on their journey to launch their business.
“At Sumuni we bring all stakeholders together and foster innovative entrepreneurship to elevate Africa’s economy through efficient partnerships and synergy.”
“Sumuni helps entrepreneurs with arrays of assistances by integrating four main role players; entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, and supporters.”
“To make this even easier we connect and integrate all of them even through a mobile app,” says Biruk, thus making Sumuni an AI-powered Web and App-based due diligence, business development, and matchmaking platform that connects all the entrepreneurial ecosystem stakeholders to work together for better results.
The platform also plans to generate foreign direct investment by linking potential foreign investors with Ethiopian entrepreneurs and startups. This promotes the economic integration of stakeholders, creating a value chain and jobs for the youth. According to Biruk, now Sumuni is partnering with coca-cola beverages to support 10 startups a year with ETB 100,000 in seed funding for each startup in addition to empowering 10,000 university graduates, youth entrepreneurs, and small business owners using the Sumuni platform through various training and startup support interventions. AS
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Addis Standard’s print magazine of the May 2022 edition.