dfcu Bank in partnership with Daily Monitor and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) have been running a program dubbed ‘Rising Woman’ that is aimed at recognizing, celebrating and promoting a culture of mentorship among women in business. During this year’s Rising Woman initiative, dfcu Bank and its partners held a business proposal writing competition and Linnet Akol emerged as the winner. We caught up with her and this is what she had to say.
Tell us about yourself?
I’m a mother of three beautiful kids, a wife and an entrepreneur who is passionate about seeing change in people’s lives. I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences where I majored in Sociology from Makerere University and a Master’s in Business Administration from Milpak Business School in South Africa. Currently I run my own business called Krystal Ice Limited. I’m enthusiastic about adding value to fruits and also committed to social change in communities.
Why and when did you venture into business?
I think I have always been an ambitious person. I had always wanted to start something of my own but starting out is always hard, there are so many challenges you face when you decide to venture out. As a sole business proprietor, all the wins and losses fall squarely on you. You contemplate leaving the comfortable job you have, air conditioned office and kiss goodbye to getting salary in time. Then you have to go ground zero and start your small thing. The reality sinks in as you won’t be able to pay yourself handsomely like before.
In 2009, the company I was working with ceased operations in Uganda and that’s when I realized it was time to venture into business. Before that, when I was working with the Danish company, I had a side business. Around 2005, I used to package tea leaves and sell to super markets and offices. It was called Kibuga tea and it was actually doing well. But because I was working somewhere else I delegated people to run the business who messed it up, stole the capital and I kind of gave up on it.
Before I quit work, I had attended a business study tour, an initiative by Professor Balunywa in partnership with Southern University in the United States. I came across an advert calling for people with business ideas, I took a leap of faith and applied, as luck would have it, I made it to the final stage after rigorous interviews. The experience opened my eyes to new ways of doing business. I learnt that to do business, we should embrace social responsibility and it shouldn’t be for selfish reasons.
I decided to venture into the ice business on account of prior exposure. In 2015, while brainstorming with my kids, we came up with the name Fruity ice pops. I had my doubts on how well the product would be received in the Ugandan market though I’m glad it has been received well so far.
One time I read an article in the papers that was talking about Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) as an incubation Centre. I was excited because I didn’t know we had one in Uganda. Sometimes lack of information can be a setback in business.
I wrote a letter to them and kept pushing till finally they gave me audience. I was allocated a food expert who worked with me till we developed the final product. Production started in 2016 November. I currently employ 8 people and have some part timers. We produce about 400 to 600 pops daily and supply to super markets such as quality, capital shoppers and a few others.
What has been your biggest challenge in running your business and how have you countered it?
My biggest challenge has been the lack of machines which slows down our production. I need a fully automated production room and cold room for storage. I also didn’t have the help of professionals to consult with on how to take my business forward. But I believe with dfcu Bank’s consultation services extended to me, this will be resolved. Operational costs are still high in terms of transport costs and high power tariffs.
One of the other challenges is people don’t appreciate Ugandan products – assuming the quality is poor. Some super markets don’t accept some locally made products limiting our market base. Every day presents its own challenges but as a company we keep pushing through hard work and persistence.
How did you hear about the Rising Woman initiative?
I heard about the Rising Woman competition through a friend on social media. I then went ahead to send in my business proposal and was delighted when I was invited to defend it.
What inspired you to participate in the Rising Woman competition?
I believe in looking for opportunities to make things happen and experience has taught me that in order to make things happens you must put yourself out there. Hearing from other women sharing their stories was eye opening. It was my first time to write a proposal and defend it. For me it was a learning experience which has left a mark along my business journey. The recognition and award was reaffirmation that I’m on the right path.
How did you feel when you were announced as the winner during the awards?
When they read out most of the names and I didn’t hear my name, my heart sunk. When the name of my company appeared on the screen I didn’t even recognize it, not until my name was called out. My heart did a double summersault on hearing my company declared the winner that evening.
How do you intend to use the prize money?
I will invest in more machines to improve my current production. We don’t have a cold room yet which has posed a challenge in terms of storage. I also want to train my employee to improve their skills in business handling.
What are your expectations as you go for the study tour in Nairobi come January 2019?
I’m excited about meeting and interacting with fellow winners. I also look forward to learning from the other entrepreneurs in Kenya. I want to learn all I can from the tour.
How do you strike a balance between family, work and other things that fight for your attention?
One of the main reasons that propelled me to start up my own business was, so that I could have more freedom to do other things that I love, life is not all about work. Being my own boss allows me manage my own time despite its unique challenges.
What advice would you give to other women entrepreneurs?
Don’t give up on your dreams. No one will make them happen for you. Surround yourself with the right people because having a supportive network, helps you make significance progress. I thank dfcu bank and partners for promoting a mentorship program for women in business that I have also benefited from.