Emilio Odongo is a young entrepreneur that attended the 1st edition of E4Impact MBA in Kampala at Uganda Martyrs University. In 2014 he founded Alwak TradeLinks Uganda Limited, an agribusiness company specializing in the development of cassava value chain.
“Cassava is one of the staple foods for the people in west Nile. We specifically target High Quality Cassava Flour [HQCF]. This is because there is a change-over process to blend wheat flour with 30% high quality cassava flour for use in breweries, baking and confectionery industries in Uganda and Africa as a whole.” he explained.
With a Bachelor Degree in Environmental Management, a Post Graduate Diploma in Project Planning and Management and an MSc Public Health he started the E4Impact MBA to improve a business he believes could give a boost to Uganda’s economy. Let’s learn more on this.
1. How was your Business Idea born?
I didn’t want to be on a payroll for a long time, I wanted to become a fully-fledged entrepreneur who created jobs for others. The idea was from the agri-business point of view, because I saw that there was a lot of opportunity in agriculture as a business in Uganda and the best approach was to look at products that could have value added to make the farmers make more money. I scanned the different range of products, services and farmers engaged and I found that cassava was on top of my list. This is because the region where my district is has a long history of producing and consuming cassava. With the changing trade in different industries, especially in the Breweries, the confectionary and the starch industry, I noticed a rising demand for cassava. The farmers were not aware, though. This is the big opportunity my company is addressing.
2. How can your business improve the life of the beneficiaries of your activities?
In the process we are looking at promoting food security, health and wellbeing and contributing to the fight against the poverty in the sub region of Uganda Westnile. Over the years the production of some of Uganda’s traditional crops (Coffee, Cotton and Tea) went down and new crops emerged, the so-called ‘non-traditional cash crops’, namely: Cassava/Beans/Maize, etc. New varieties of cassava are coming onto the market; that are now fast maturing, resistant to disease and they withstand poor weather. These attributes are a plus for the farmers that make them benefit when they produce cassava.
“I wanted to become a fully-fledged entrepreneur who created jobs for others.
I noticed a rising demand for cassava, but the farmers were not aware. I took the chance”
3. What has been the main challenge you had to overcome in your entrepreneurial experience?
Surely the challenge of accessing Start-up Funds to take off, including the Registration of the Business with the Registrar of Companies. I managed to overcome this challenge by partnering with a friend and we mobilised the funds required for the process. We requested for land from the Government to establish our initial 50 acrres of Cassava Farm for Cassava seed multiplication. This was still in the spirit of Public Private Partnership that the Government of Uganda is promoting for Private Entrepreneurs.
4. In your opinion, what are the main qualities an entrepreneur should have?
Resilience is the first: never give-up if things are not working according to your plans. They you would need commitment and open mindedness, don’t be rigid and change strategy if needed.
5. Is there a person you are inspired by?
It could sound funny, but I do and he is the Venture Capitalist who participates in the ‘Shark Tank’ series.
6. What would you suggest to a new-born entrepreneur?
Entrepreneurs are not born but made by the environment they live in. Listen to the envirnoment.
7. Could you tell us a particular satisfactory moment you had in your entrepreneurial activity?
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to share my story with a group of youth from all over the Dioceses of Uganda. I talked about my Cassava Value addition story and I was overwhelmed by emails from the participants, thanking me for opening up their minds on how they can turn around their opportunities and be successful by developing a positive mindset. It was great!
8. Could you tell us how the MBA has helped you and your career?
My business linkage ability has been greatly enhanced. The MBA promotes a ‘hands on’ approach to learning at a very high level of interaction. In the last 60 days, I have managed to access an equivalent of USD 13,000 as Commercial Loan (working Capital) from a Bank I got in touch with through the MBA. The way they treated my process has left me in awe, because there is NO Bank in Uganda that does things the way they did! Another unique feature of this MBA is that it enrolls students from diverse backgrounds and this makes it very interesting when sharing the personal experiences of the businesses which impact on people’s lives.
Learn more on Alwak TradeLinks Uganda Limited