So Jade, tell us a bit about Balloon Ventures?
Balloon Ventures exist to support the growth and development of micro businesses and small-scale entrepreneurs to ultimately create sustainable development in Kenya, Ghana, Uganda and the Philippines. They achieve this by up-skilling entrepreneurs through business and financial training as well as offering them the opportunity to pitch for an interest-free loan to support their business.
Excellent! So what did you do during your volunteer placement?
My placement started off with a full week of curriculum training which we were to learn and later share this knowledge with our group of entrepreneurs. The curriculum mainly encourages you to think about business in a different way, looking at everything from entrepreneurship to creativity, innovation, added value and finance.
After an intense week of this training, we met our entrepreneurs. These were the 5 people we were going to be working alongside over the next 7 weeks, the people that were openly welcoming us into their lives and their businesses for support. My team consisted of a salon owner, a poultry farmer, a start-up hoping to create and sell fish aquariums, a fruit juice seller and a start-up hoping to have a successful dog-breeding business). There were a great variety of businesses and skills in my team and to me that was one of the positives of Balloon Ventures – the programme applies to variety of people.
We spent a good week getting to know each of our entrepreneurs individually, their businesses, their likes and dislikes and we quickly built a friendship with each of them.
From week 3 the programme began to get pretty intense, right up until the final week (week 8) with the entrepreneurs. We were required to spend 8 hours weekly with each entrepreneur working on their business and their pitch documents (a 30-page business plan that was needed if they were to pitch for a loan at the end of the programme). A lot of admin, idea testing, customer research, finance, data collection and even more admin happened within those weeks, all leading up to our final week with them.
Four of my entrepreneurs were pitching for the loan – granted this was not their priority, each of them joined the programme for the skills and free training that was available to them, this was an unheard of opportunity in their community, but the loan would be a nice bonus to boost their business. On that final week we ran through every detail in their pitch document with them, created our own public speaking workshop for them and made sure they felt fully confident to go forward in front of the pitching panel. I also happened to be on the pitching panel (for other entrepreneurs) and got to see the creativity and hard-work committed from everyone else on the programme. After an absolute rollercoaster of a week, the panel put forward their recommendations to Balloon’s loan officers and we held a farewell event with our entrepreneurs before leaving Nakuru.
That does sound pretty intense, but impressive at the same time. What were the main challenges facing entrepreneurs?
From working so closely with our entrepreneurs for 7 weeks, their challenges became our challenges and it was our role to provide solutions for them. A lack of capital was an obvious challenge for most business owners and start-ups in Nakuru, but from completing this programme it became apparent that their biggest challenge was the lack of business education and opportunities available to them. There is a huge copycat culture in Kenya – walk down any main street in any urban city there and you’re bound to find at least 5 – 10 of the same M-Pesa stores, phone shops, shoes shops and even pharmacies, not to mention the vast amount of tuk-tuk drivers all competing with each other for your service.
What the entrepreneurs needed most was the knowledge to increase their value proposition and to thoroughly understand the needs of their customers. I believe this is the most valuable and sustainable lesson the Balloon curriculum teaches the entrepreneurs throughout the programme.
That’s a great insight, and one that we’ve seen across the world. Finally, what did you learn about entrepreneurship during your placement?
I learnt to look at entrepreneurship in a different way. I learnt how important failure and risk taking is to the success of any business idea. Creating an idea can be easy, replicating existing businesses is also easy, but for a business idea to be original and to succeed, a fear of failure can’t be present. It sounds so simple but once implemented it can be so effective.
Aside from this, my team taught me the value of passion and dedication within entrepreneurship – when those failures took place and things didn’t go to plan for us it was their passion and dedication that made us start over with a fresh outlook.
Some excellent tips for any of our ‘wannabe’ entrepreneurs there Jade, thanks.
What struck us after interviewing her was the similarities shared around the world, especially in areas where there is a lack of business education or coaching. Balloon Ventures certainly help to fill the gaps, and we also aim to support this, albeit mainly for social entrepreneurs. Finally, as Jade mentioned at the end, failure often stops people trying, but if you look at any of the successful people in the world today, they all have experienced failure at some stage, and may do so again in the future. The key is to never give up, and learn from your mistakes.