Andrew Mupuya is a young Ugandan entrepreneur with an amazing story. He is the CEO and founder of Yeli Investments, producer of Yeli Paper bags, one he has become famous for and won international awards. He was a teenager when he started out. Youthhubafrica’s Ugandan Correspondent, Ruth Aine caught up with him and shares his story below.
Q: How did you start out and what inspired you?
A: ‘I started out in secondary school after the government put a ban on ‘buveeras’ (Plastic polythene bags). After the ban, I decided that I wanted to create a solution. I made a business plan. To start out, I needed 36,000 Uganda shillings [About $13.4 at the current rate]. So I collected 70 kgs of used mineral water bottles to raise capital. But I raised only 28,000/-UGs.[$10] My fellow students and teachers thought that I was mad. To meet up with the plan, I borrowed the remaining 8000/- [$2.9] from my teacher.’ I sold a ream worth of paper bags every 3 weeks and from each ream, I earned 20,000/-[$7.4] worth of profit.
Q: When was that?
That was in 2008. And I was 16 years old.
Q: Which school did you go to?
I went to Kololo SS. It is currently the biggest Universal Secondary Education, USE in Kampala. After form six, my brother, who was my host sent me away back to the village, 3 days later I came back to Kampala. I had nothing to start with but I wanted to build my business.
Q: So as a young entrepreneur, what have been your challenges thus far?
A: 1. Negative Peer influence:
Everyone thought that I was never going to make it. Even my teachers told me that I was going to fail class. But I had a weekly timetable and that is how I made it.
2. Understanding of the market and product:
When I started out, I wanted to grow the market. But then, I realized that I needed to work on making the product better. I wanted to have more clients to supply to. But then I realized that it was important that I focused on the paper bags in terms of variety, quality and quantity.
3. Source of materials:
I used to buy paper from Nasser road in Kampala. But the suppliers were not reliable. I am now importing from Nairobi. That in itself is a challenge. The price is cheaper, but I have to pay more in taxes at the border because of corruption.
My biggest competition is from Kenya. It is a group of Indians who use machines. My employees work manually. So they take more time and we do not produce as much in terms of quantity as we would love to.
Q: Word on the street is that you have received so many awards. Talk to me about those.
In 2011, I won the Business Plan writing competition. Over 300 people had applied, 60 got picked. I had an advantage because I had a clue on what it meant to write a business plan . I emerged the winner and was given $1000. This is what I used to buy furniture.
In 2012: I received the African Leadership institute Young Entrepreneurs Award.
I was part of the 270 applicants from 32 countries. It was a tough one. As one of the 13 finalists, the judge came to Uganda to visit my business and I with my employees were interviewed. I was then later taken to South Africa for the final phase of interviews.There were 3 sections of judges. I emerged the winner and was given $ 30,000 which I am receiving in bits to help grow my business.
This year 2013: I will be receiving the Social Entrepreneurship Award in Europe. I won it last year though. It was for 15-45 year olds. Out of the 17 semifinalists worldwide selected, I was one of the 4 finalists. Interviews were done via Skype with judges from all over the world. The other finalists were from the United States, Norway and Sweden.I will be traveling to Norway & Latvia to receive the award at this years European Trade Fair.
Q: Apart from business, what else are you passionate about?
I love to share my skills and information. So far I have trained over 500 people in making these paper bags and writing business plans. Some of the trainings I have done via Skype. I have trained people from Norway, Ghana and Zambia. I have done trainings in secondary schools and so many other fora.
Q: Are you not afraid that the people you train will offset your business?
No. It has taken me a lot to build this. I give them skills; the how to. But I do not give then the entrepreneurial spirit. That is what is important. There was a time a journalist came to me for training because he was amazed at how well I was doing. 3 weeks later, he called back asking how I did it, because he had failed.
Q: What is your biggest fear?
Not succeeding. When you start something, you always want to succeed.
Q: Future Plans: do you have any?
Yes, of course I do. I hope to start using recycled paper next year. When making the paper bags, there are a lot of cuttings that we do not use. The bits and pieces that are left out in the process. I want to start recycling those and create more paper. I am currently doing a training with Uganda Research Institute to that effect. But to do that, we will need a bigger premise. So I am working on building bigger premises before I embark on that project as well.
Q: You seem to be very passionate about business, what do you have to say to people that want to make it big in business ?
A: Uganda has a very high business acumen, but very low business sustainability. If you want to make it big, you need to plan. Uganda also has a high number of start ups but they all fall through before their second birthday. And this is because ‘We do not forecast, we do not plan’.
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