The GroFin blog page showcases GroFin entrepreneur success and provides insights on how they have grown their businesses into successful SMEs.

In the bag: Recycling keeps EcoPlastic going despite COVID-19

“I had an idea to look for what I can do for myself with all the plastic bags scattered everywhere in the country”

Habamungu Wenceslas – Entrepreneur behind EcoPlastics

EcoPlastic, a recycling business in Rwanda, collects 88 tons of plastic waste every year and turns it into new plastic bags, tubing, and sheeting. Habamungu Wenceslas, the entrepreneur behind EcoPlastics, recognised the business opportunity when Rwanda passed a law banning the use and importation of plastic bags. “I had an idea to look for what I can do for myself with all the plastic bags scattered everywhere in the country,” he says.

Habamungu approached GroFin for financing in 2017 to purchase new equipment to expand EcoPlastic’s production capacity. By the end of 2019, he had managed to grow the business’s sales by over 400% compared to its early years of trading in 2010 and 2011. But when COVID-19 struck earlier this year, EcoPlastic was forced to close completely for two weeks and the impact of the pandemic on its customers suddenly saw the business’s sales plummet.

“Our main customers were also forced to close. Some – like hotels, restaurants, and the airport – are still closed for the moment.”

Habamungu says COVID-19 has also made it more difficult and costly to import raw materials.

“Trucks have to stay on the border for several days due to compliance checks and this has increased transport costs by 10%. Luckily, part of my business does not require imported raw materials so production could continue – although at a lower level.”

As part of our efforts to support our SME clients, GroFin developed a specially designed Resilience Tool Kit to guide them in protecting their revenue and reducing their expenses. We assisted Habamungu in conducting a rigorous cashflow stress test to gauge the expected impact of the pandemic on four aspects of his business: demand, supply chain, staff, and finances. We also provided him with a COVID-19 ESG Framework to better protect his staff and customers from infection.

Habamungu says GroFin has not only provided him with moral support during this difficult time but also helped his business to remain profitable. For example, GroFin advised him to shift some production teams to work at night when electricity costs are lower and to focus on acquiring more local plastic waste as raw material rather than relying on imports.

“Instead of losing confidence, we continued to focus on marketing strategies and how we can expand our collection areas. It made me realise that even if we are in difficult times, we will resume and grow the company.”

EcoPlastic directly employs 54 people and supports another 35 who collects plastic waste for recycling. Despite the setbacks caused by COVID-19, Habamungu chose to retain all his employees and continued to pay their full salaries.

Nzeyimana Fidele has been working as an accountant at EcoPlastic for more than two years. He supports his spouse, two young children and a domestic worker. Nzeyimana says the pandemic has already cost some members of his extended family their jobs.

“We are forced to make some contribution to support them as our family and this comes as food prices are increasing due to supplies issues caused by COVID-19.”

Nzeyimana Fidele, Accountant for EcoPlastic

He says he feels very lucky to have been able to keep his job at EcoPlastic despite the crisis.

“It made me happy. I cannot explain the joy that I feel. There is hope.”

GroFin helps Saboba survive COVID-19 lockdown in Jordan

When the first cases of COVID-19 were detected there in mid-March-2020, Jordan’s government quickly responded by imposing one of the strictest lockdowns in the world. Jordanians were completely confined to their homes for several days and later only allowed to venture out to purchase food and essential items.

Although restrictions were later gradually eased, the impact on Jordan’s economy was severe and small businesses bore the brunt of it. Al-Mutamayeza for Frozen Food Trading, which trades under the name Saboba, is a Jordanian wholesaler distributing high-quality frozen and processed meat and poultry products. The Nomou Jordan Fund has provided Saboba with three rounds of funding from 2014 to 2017. ​

Saboba had to cease production during the period of strict lockdown and could only resume its operations at the end of May. Although its food products could still be sold, the restrictions and their impact on the economy caused a drop of more than 60% in Saboba’s sales and a delay in payments from many of its customers. The lockdown also took effect right at the time Saboba planned to install a new production line and its newly imported equipment was left stuck in customs. ​

​While nearly all activity in the country had ground to a halt, GroFin Jordan reached out to key decision-makers to arrange the release of equipment that were shipped to Saboba’s supplier (partially owned by Saboba’s shareholders) in order to avoid severe delays in setting up the new production line. And further to its business support offering, GroFin Jordan also introduced the client to logistics service providers to help move and install the machinery and assisted the business in obtaining the necessary permits to resume production.

“We managed to get our new machinery, could meet demand, and maintain the brand’s reputation. The company was under the threat of closure. The support offered by GroFin Jordan meant we survived and are back in business”

Raed Mustafa Saboba, owner of the business

Saboba employs 15 people. Salah Ali Hasan Qatam has been working in Saboba’s warehouse since 2008. He supports his wife and five children, aged 13 to 24.

“I am very proud to have this job as it enables me to define my future and that of my family. Working here allows me to save some money for my children. I also hope that I will be able to buy a house instead of paying rent.”

Salah Ali Hasan Qatam, Saboba employee

GroFin helps GIA Bridals respond to COVID-19 crisis with new clothing line

COVID-19 has forced couples around the world to postpone or change their wedding plans. The virus has not only left many couples in tears – wedding vendors are just as heartbroken.

In Nigeria, the popularity of large and lavish weddings has created a million-dollar industry serviced by many small businesses. With Nigerians forced to put their wedding plans on hold due to COVID-19, many of these businesses – and the jobs they create – are now in jeopardy.

GIA Bridals, a GroFin client located in Port Harcourt, makes and rents bespoke wedding gowns to brides. The Aspire Small Business Fund (ASBF) invested in GIA Bridals in 2014 and 2017, providing the business with working capital and enabling the entrepreneur to lease and equip a larger space. Since ASBF’s investment, the business posted consistent increases in its sales and revenue.

But this year, GIA was forced to remain closed for three months during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria and the business did not make any sales. Although GIA resumed operations in July, business is still slow. GIA’s owner, Ngozi Brisibe, says it would be devasting to her and her staff if her business was forced to close for good.

“We all depend on the business as our only source of livelihood.”

Ngozi Brisibe, Owner – GIA Bridals

GIA Bridals employs 11 people – 10 of whom are women. Chioma Patrick does the beadwork on GIA’s wedding gowns and has been working there for five years, supporting her mother. “This job has made it possible for me to earn my own money and I am not depending on or begging anyone to provide my basic needs. It makes me feel great and gives me confidence,” she says.

GroFin shared a customised Business Resilience Tool Kit – rolled out across the group to help clients respond to the pandemic – to help Ngozi analyse the impact on her business and especially its cashflow. “GroFin’s staff was consistently calling to find out how we were doing and providing advice on what can be done,” she says.

Ngozi’s biggest concern was whether she will be able to sustain the business until economic activity is fully restored.

“We suggested that she pivots her business away from only focusing on wedding dresses by using existing equipment for other products”

Charles Chikezie, GroFin Senior Industry Expert

Ngozi has responded by launching MyLadyUrban, a new line of women’s clothing. She says the new brand seeks to represent women as “both feminine and powerful” and will allow GIA to clothe its clients before, during, and after their weddings. “Although things seemed bad now, there’s hope for us with this new line of business,” Ngozi concludes.

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