Mr Emmy Matovu first saw electricity at the age of 19. Born to peasant parents in Rakai District, the sight was thrilling but not enough to lure him into pursing a course in electrical engineering when the opportunity presented itself. This was after his parents asked him to join technical school due to financial constraints.
“They told me to go there and I said no. After a few days, I realised I was the only villager, I accepted. I wanted to do civil engineering but when I went, the class was already full. I didn’t want to do electrical because I knew electricity would kill me,” Mr Matovu says as he laughs at his younger self.
Mr Matovu ran out of options. Since the mechanical engineering class was also full, he did the course he detested. But his teacher, Mr Nathan Mugulu, changed his mindset. Mr Mugulu said he would not regret while Mr Matovu wondered if Mr Mugulu was mad.
Today, the 48-year old agrees his teacher was very sane. Having worked in Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) and Uganda Electricity Distribution Company Limited (UEDCL), Mr Matovu founded his company, Marma Technical Services in 1999 to fill the gap within the then virgin industry.
Marma Technical Services’ objective was to construct power lines, help companies expand their internal power lines and sell electrical supplies. The idea came to him while he worked as electrical assistant manager in Kasese under UEDCL.
“I saw many things especially in the private sector. People were contracted so I picked interest. Big companies such as Hima Cement would contract companies because at Uganda Electricity Board, things would not move fast. So, I registered a company when I went to Kisoro,” he narrates.
More so, companies from as far as Rwanda were already approaching him privately.
Mr Matovu raised about Shs2.3m from his savings and registered his business under sole ownership. A transfer to Lugazi motivated him too. There, Sugar Corporation of Uganda wanted labour to connect power. Hima Cement factory needed his expertise too.
He kept lobbying and laying business strategy. Luckily, his network in government and industries such as Kilembe Mines helped his cause. It took Mr Matovu more than six months to win a contract.
“It was a tender to do street lighting at Hima Cement in Kasese. It was about Shs4.2m and I was happy because I was in Kisoro, meaning I would commute,” Mr Matovu says.
He made Shs1.6m profit.
In 2000, he found an extra mind for his one-man team. He recruited a permanent employee while he maintained casual labourers. Structures were absent as his working capital was only Shs10m. At the back of his mind, he did not want to be employed beyond 10 years, so he made a U-turn.
“I thought it was not fair for me to be in a public office. In 2004, when UEDCL handed over to Umeme, I said I will not go,” he says.
So Mr Matovu delved into full-time business. He turned the enterprise into a limited company to delegate tasks and enjoy bank benefits. Contracts with companies such as UEDCL, Rural Electrification Agency, MTN, Celtel, Electrogaz in Rwanda and ministry of Defence enhanced the business’ growth.
Two Sh60m contracts to supply cables to Umeme and electrical equipment to a school in Hoima gave a big boost to the company.
Recently, the company has diversified into generating renewable energy from water so that it improves its earnings.
“We started with a micro-hydro power dam in Kapchorwa, of about 100 kilowatts generating power from water in Elgon Mountains to Kenya. We designed, constructed and commissioned it,” Mr Matovu explains.
Mr Matovu says the company is doing well so far and is yet to start construction of a 2.5 megawatt hydro power dam in Kisinga-Kasese District.
“Government has already given us a power purchasing agreement to buy our power,” Mr Matovu says, adding: “It will be a $9m (Shs32.4b) project and we are still sourcing for financing.”
However, the gradual growth of the business has not been without challenges. Taxes are very good as far as developing the economy is concerned but Mr Matovu says their structures are unfavourable for those in the power sector.
“At times you want to claim withholding tax but you never get it,” he says.
He signs a contract today when the dollar is Shs3,600 but by the time it ends in three years, the dollar has changed, something Mr Matovu says affects his profit.
Prices of electric equipment also keep changing. The economy has been another obstacle.
“You do work for Roads Authority expecting to be paid within 30 days. They pay you after 180 days yet this is borrowed money so you find that interest on it has increased,” Mr Matovu explains.
Contracts are not as many as they were between 2007 and 2012. Competition has grown more so with the influx of Chinese firms which manufacture and supply electrical accessories on credit. Mr Matovu expects the hydro power projects to keep the business afloat.
After 18 years of running operations, one of his biggest achievements is developing a micro hydropower plant that is 100 per cent local.
The chairman of electrical contractors and secretary of Uganda Hydropower Association hopes to achieve more from other lines of business. He is targeting carbon funding to extend power to rural areas. He plans to expand branches from the seven currently in the country. He has just moved into his personal offices. He expects his new ventures into manufacturing of packaging material and supply of communication technology equipment to flourish.
“I hope by the time we celebrate 25 years, we shall have migrated above Shs90b,” he says.
He adds: “The company’s turnover is now Shs12b. I am targeting more.”
Have a functional business plan. Make realistic plans, start small and grow big especially in a business you have experience in. Private business is always the best, so make sure you work hard.