Ms Grace Nalugwa is the chief executive officer Gracela ventures SMC Limited found in Kagoma, Kawempe division, Kampala District. She is an award winning young entrepreneur who won a scholarship to Korea under the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) that trained her to come up with innovative ideas to generate income.
KOICA wants this programme to be enrolled throughout the country to help young entrepreneurs in Uganda to generate entrepreneurial ideas that help them generate income at household level. For this, Ms Nalugwa started up a company making briquettes from garbage waste.
How did you start?
Many people use charcoal for cooking, something which is depleting more forests because charcoal is burnt from firewood. But 20 years from now when all trees are cut down for charcoal, there will hardly be any more charcoal to prepare food and the environment will be affected due to absence of trees.
“I thought of an alternative source of energy and these are briquettes. They are environment friendly. Koreans use briquettes for cooking food also. I acquired knowledge to make briquettes which I make from garbage waste,” Ms Nalugwa explains.
She collects garbage from her community.
On what compelled her to start this kind of business, Ms Nalugwa is quick to explain that she needed something that was not overcrowded but could turn in a profit.
“This is a business I ventured in because I wanted to start a business which is profitable and not done by many. There is no need for one to start a business which is not profitable,” Ms Nalugwa says.
With capital of Shs9m sourced from the Youth Livelihood Fund, she was ready to take the big dive into business.
“I am now paying it back in instalments. I have a period of three years to pay back which I am optimistic that I will clear off because my business is making money,” she says.
But what inspired her to start a briquettes business?
Ms Nalugwa discovered that she did not need initial capital to start this kind of business.
“Almost every household has waste for disposal. I found gold in this,” she says.
She was very tactful in how she would acquire it. She rode on the power of building relationships.
“I befriended people in my community who willingly offer the waste because no one wants to keep waste. I only pay money to my employees who collect the waste. Making briquettes is my side business which I earn extra income from apart from my school business,” Ms Nalugwa explains.
Frustration about using charcoal to cook, Ms Nalugwa quickly needed a better alternative to cooking. The solution soon became her full-time business.
Armed with knowledge from South Korea, she turned to making briquettes commercially.
“From a personal experience, buying charcoal to cook food every day is expensive. So when I learnt to make briquettes with the knowledge I acquired from Korea, I decided to make briquettes. I am proud my business is thriving. People come to buy briquettes and are slowly avoiding charcoal. This is a good sign because we are now conserving the environment by opting for alternative and cheap sources of charcoal,” Ms Nalugwa says.
Many people start up entrepreneurial innovations and before they even celebrate their first year of existence they collapse. But that is not the case for Ms Nalugwa.
“I am determined to go on with my briquettes business. I have always tried to engage the community on a daily basis. The waste that they have in their homes is important. This very waste can be turned into a fortune and I am hopeful that many will no longer dispose it off,” she says.
She lives in a community which gives her waste and eventually buys briquettes from her for cooking. This has helped her enterprise grow.
Thanks to market research on what people want, she is filling a gap in the market.
“On a daily basis, everyone needs charcoal because they cook. So I am providing an alternative source of energy for people to cook,” she says.
Nothing beats the fact that there is a ready market for her product. Word-of-mouth referrals have also kept her in business.
“I am assured of customers who always who want the briquettes. The customers who buy them also refer other clients to me.
Briquettes have a wide market. Although you are very many people in the same area doing the same business, you cannot run out of business.
“I do not fear competition because this motivates me to work harder by adding more value to what I do by consulting from other people who have thrived in this business,” she says.
People do not know about briquettes as an alternative source energy to cook food.
“They do not know it is another type of charcoal used to cook food. We need to create more awareness and I am trying as much as possible to educate people in my community,” she says.
Uganda has a poor waste management system as people are not informed about disposing garbage the right way. But people need to be taught about waste management.
“We compile organic and inorganic waste all together. We always have to sort garbage. It would be easy if I found when they have sorted it. But nothing comes on a silver platter,” she shares.
She needs more capital to expand her operations.
“We are phasing out charcoal now to use briquettes; meaning the market is becoming bigger than how we started. This calls for having more machines for wide production, employ more people to collect more. Then the capital was not enough because I was producing on a small scale for just my community population but these are bringing more clients as now people are slowly phasing out charcoal for briquettes.