Rising Woman: A beacon of hope for women in business

What you need to know:

Women who competed and won in digital innovation and e-commerce, manufacturing and consumer services and agribusiness and value addition categories, are ready to take their businesses to the next level. They want to do robust marketing, improve branding and packaging their goods and services and mentor women.

Dfcu Bank in partnership with Monitor Publication Limited’s Daily Monitor and Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), have been running a programme dubbed Rising Woman that recognises, celebrates and promotes a culture of mentorship among women in business.

Out of the 240 applicants, 10 emerged winners during the Rising Woman proposal writing competition. The grand finale was held on November 25. Three of them each won Shs10m and an all paid expense business trip. Here are more top five.

Deliah Nalukwago, founder,  My Musawo App: Prio Medical Limited

 “My Musawo was incorporated in 2019 as a product of Prio Medical LTD, but we did not start building the application until 2021, because we still had to do market research a few iterations on our initial ideas,” she says.

“We shall be launching the Ask a Musawo forum, which will be free for the first users, after which we shall continue to launch new paid features, as we improve health care accessibility.’’

My Musawo, translated as my doctor is a mobile app that provides access to quality health care information, services and products. When users sign up, they are assigned a unique alias to allow for safe browsing and sharing in the community. Users can then ask health related questions and get instant answers from a team of licensed professional health experts. They can also like, comment and share posts, as well as book appointments from a list of health and wellness partners.

She say they are currently undergoing internal testing of their first products/features and plan to launch publicly. She won an all-expense paid business trip plus a grant of Sh10m during the grand finale of the Rising Woman Initiative.

As a bootstrapped startup, she says it was hard to keep the lights on with limited funds. “I was reluctant to apply because I did not think they would be interested in software start-ups. I am glad that we emerged overall winners in the digital innovation and e-commerce category,” she adds.

My Musawo founder says meeting other women entrepreneurs and exchanging ideas was another highlight of the Rising Woman bootcamp.

“I met brilliant visionaries tackling some of the biggest challenges in the country, while supporting their homes and families. I am proud to be in such great company,” she adds. She plans to use the Shs10 million cash prize to finish push the product, start delivering world class services to users as well as generate revenue. Her goal is to build a beautiful unicorn; one that Ugandans can be proud of and scale it across Africa.

Christine A. Muga, MD Mt. Elgon Women in Specialty Coffee Ltd (MTEWISCOF)

For the last 10 years, Muga has been in the coffee industry as a businesswoman roasting, processing and exporting coffee to global markets.  Mt. Elgon Women in Specialty Coffee Ltd (MTEWISCOF), according to Muga, the managing director is 100 percent women-owned and works with 15 farmer groups and a total number of 658 farmers in the slopes of MT Elgon.

“We are empowering women economically through capacity building documentation, advocacy for sustainable development in the community,” the MD says.

Through Rising Woman, Muga says she acquired skills and knowledge on proposal writing and expanded networks with businesswomen. She won a fully sponsored business trip.

“My plan is to intensify on resource mobilisation; both human resource and capital and secure market of coffee locally and globally,” she says.

Muga, a social worker, previously worked with development partners as legal promoter, credit officer, heath advocate, implementing programme activities in Sebei Sub-region.

And these are the skills she is using to mentor women in coffee production. She wants women to take agriculture as a business that would improve their economic status and household incomes.

Aside from coffee production, Muga says she has mobilised resources and she is implementing construction of bio digesters for coffee farmers at a cost sharing arrangement; farmers pay 60 percent and partners pay 40 percent of the cost of a bio digester.

“We have also trained 30 masons who will construct bio digesters for farmers thus job creation. We have secured funds for construction of 180 bio digesters for farmers at approximately 2.4million each. We have secured a revolving fund at a very low cost for our farmers to ease their contribution,” she adds.

Bio digesters have clean energy for cooking, save time, reduce the cutting of trees and increase income per household, since money for buying firewood and charcoal is saved and better agronomic practices are adopted.

Mercy Nekesa - Raining Vegetables

“Our software is for farmers looking to make profits and grow their farming business. We support farmers to track production activities; planting, weeding, track expenses, farm’s operations, get business insights, download reports and so much more,” Mercy Nekesa, the founder of Raining Vegetables says.

She also provides organisations with tools to provide access to information to help farmers make the best investment decisions, farming guides to provide information on the best farming methods and traceability solutions.

Located in Mabanga ward, Busiu Town Council in Mbale City, Nekesa’s farm management idea was birthed in May 2020 and launched this year. Like other top 10 winners of Rising Woman, she also won an all-expense paid business trip abroad. Among other benefits, she says the initiative has propelled her to build a solid foundation for her business.

“In five years, we hope to reach more than 50,000 farmers and supporting them to make informed decisions through record-keeping. If they understand how much money they are making or losing, they are more capable of making decisions that will better and grow their farms.”

In the near future, Nekesa expects farmers to start producing and experiencing high-yield returns from their farms, boost production and solidify their financial base. She believes the software will become the go-to resource for promoting successful commercial farming throughout Africa.

Isabel Agol, founder of Naroho Company Limited

Established in 2016, NaRoho is a women-led manufacturer of high quality everyday authentic fashion accessories. Through training, the youth and women make beautifully designed, well made, high quality everyday leather fashion accessories for sale.

 In 2014, as Isabel Agol, the founder, strolled on Wilson Street, downtown Kampala, she saw a pair of imported sandals costing Shs85,000. This inspired her to venture into making sandals.

“I used Shs50,000 to buy materials, which produced the first six pairs that sold out. Today, she runs NaRoho which generates more than Shs10m in monthly sales and she exports to US and Japan in addition to selling locally.

From personally hand-stitching the first leather bag, Agol now runs a lucrative business that has trained more than 30 youth in leather craft, employs five women as full-time staff and six other youth on a part time basis.

We make leather bags for women and men, wallets, belts, shoes and interior accessories. We have won a study trip from the Rising Woman competition.

“We have already increased on the product offering by adding school shoes and we hope to train 70 young women in bag and shoe-making in 2023 and provide employment for at least 50 of them. We plan to take this company to greater height.”

 Maria G. Nakanwagi, Managing director, Nature’s Essence Ltd

“I started with making small packs of Shs3,000 and would make Shs50,000. I hired two men to hawk packs of Shs1,000 in Kawempe and Nansana. And in a day, each would make Shs30,000, making a daily sale of Shs100,000,” she says.

At the end of the month, Nakanwagi was pocketing Shs3m. With this running capital from her side hustle, she was ready to make restaurant and hotel supplies.

Back in 2017, Maria Nakanwagi wanted to have organic and chemical free foods, especially mushrooms for her diabetic and hypertensive family members. The increasing demand from her neighbours and workmates, she got an idea of doing mushroom growing as business.

Nature’s Essence Ltd, is a private Agri-business Development company started as a home-based nutritional support backyard mushroom and vegetable growing venture.

Mushroom growing and its subsequent value addition provides important nutrients such as selenium, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin Proteins and fibre.

It also raises the nutritional status in the community by providing an extra source of proteins, valuable minerals and vitamins especially to children, expectant mothers.

“We have embarked on training women groups into mushroom-growing and supporting them to find market.

So far, 12 women groups of 20 women each or (240women) in Nansana Municipality have benefitted and are now part of our out grower’s scheme. Our main products are Fresh Oyster Mushrooms and dried Mushrooms,” she says.

 To increase marketability and address post-harvest wastage of the mushrooms, Nakanwagi says a range of other value added products such as mushroom coffee with rosemary powder, mushroom based high protein- fibre porridge and a healthy snack- the mushroom Samosas have been added.

 “We have also piloted developing a mushroom-based skin care, with two products; anti-Aging Soap and Cream. The rich micro-nutrients and anti-oxidant properties loaded in the mushrooms make the skin glow and attain a youthful look,” she adds.

 She says the Rising Woman process was quite engaging. “One had to be true to what is exactly happening on the ground and give the true reflection of what your business is doing, expenses against income and the impact in the community. This helped me to organise my business processes,” Nakanwagi says. 

“Participants came in full gear with displays and demonstrations.” She says she learnt how to do a pitch deck.

“It was like a PhD defence. Rising Woman is giving us visibility, especially those with start-ups. Improving branding and the quality of my products and robust marketing are things I want to focus on.” She wants to take Nature’s Essence mushroom-based products in supermarkets, urban and peri-urban centres across the country. She also wants to produce mushroom-based skin care products such as cleansers, shower gels, hair shampoo, with support from Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI).