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INTERVIEW: How Orient Bank Business Academy Is Uplifting Emerging Entrepreneurs

Orient Bank’s Business Academy is increasingly shaping blossoming entrepreneurs through hands-on training with the aim of   growing small businesses into bigger ones, albeit sustainably.

Business Focus’ Taddewo William Senyonyi interviewed Emmanuel Njuki (in featured photo), the Head of Orient Business Academy, who also doubles as the Corporate Communications and Marketing Head at the bank about this initiative and how it is impacting businesses.

Below are the excerpts of the interview;

Qn:  Briefly tell me about Orient Bank Business Academy… What’s all about?

A: Orient Business Academy is the premier corporate social responsibility program of Orient Bank with a focus on training small scale business owners in the areas of; The Entrepreneurial Mindset, Bookkeeping, Competitive Market Analysis, Marketing, Human Resource Management, Operations Planning and Financial Planning.

The Academy which is  now  running for the third year has already  trained over 100 small scale business owners and rewarded 10 of them with financial support of up to Shs120 million.

Qn:  What motivated Orient Bank to focus on SMEs?

A: A research done by Makerere University Business School in 2004 indicated that one in every two Ugandan businesses that were started failed within three years.

Despite the ranking the country got four years ago as the most entrepreneurial country in the world, the MUBS research still holds water today as businesses continue to struggle to make it to the 5 year mark. This is why we started the Orient Business Academy, so that we can equip as many brilliant business men and women as possible to enable them grow and maintain their businesses.

We are also aware that SMEs are the backbone of Uganda’s economy. That is why we are focused on building their capacity.

Their success has widespread impact. With this capacity building we are certain we are reaching much more than just the participating businesses. Their growth will directly impact their customers, suppliers and peer and lead to a higher multiplier effect.

Qn: SMEs are broad. Who qualifies to join the Orient Business Academy?

A: In our context, any small business that has been in operation for between 1 and 3 years (12 to 36 months) and has an annual turnover of less than Shs120 million is eligible to participate in the Orient Business Academy. We invite applications then sieve out the best applicants based on uniqueness of business idea and concept of business.

Participants engage in a creativity exercise during the third season of The Orient Business Academy

Qn: In Uganda, some trainings meant to be practical tend to be theoretical. How practical are your trainings?

A: We appreciate that there is a diversity of businesses in differing sectors but we also understand that they share the same opportunities and challenges. That is why, in partnership with Makerere University Business School, we have experts take these entrepreneurs through subjects such as Bookkeeping, Competitive Market Analysis, Marketing, Human Resource Management, Operations Planning and Financial Planning which knowledge we trust will practically impact their business operations.

Diana Ntamu, the Director MUBS Entrepreneurship Centre teaching the third intake of Orient Business Academy

Qn: The Academy has been running for now three years. What key milestones has it recorded?

A: Over 100 SMEs have received training and also been linked to other SME support programs and networks while so far 10 of them have receiving grant financing to the tune of Shs120 million.

Another five businesses will be funded with a total of Shs60 million this intake. We have seen actual transformation in the way the academy participants conduct business post-training including growing their market share and turn over. They have attributed a lot of this to the knowledge from the Orient Business Academy.

Qn: Uganda is one of the most enterprising countries globally, but attrition rate is very high. What accounts for this high failure rate?

Qn: As mentioned earlier in reference to past research; poor record keeping, limited access to affordable financing as well as weak business structures are some of the areas cited leading to early business attrition. We are making efforts to address those through the businesses we come in contact with either as a bank or the Academy.

Qn:  Does Orient bank have preferential interest rates for the business academy alumni?

A:  Not at the moment. This is however something that is worth considering.

Qn:   What do banks consider to lend to SMEs? Are SMEs bankable?

SMEs are certainly bankable. Almost all banks in this market have a specialised team to cater to this segment. Orient Bank specifically is a niche SME bank and for the past 26 years, many of our customers  have grown with us beyond this category and into large corporate category. Banks will always study the business and the opportunity one intends to borrow for to establish that the risk is manageable. Due diligence will be made along that to establish that the business has the capacity to utilise the borrowed funds to progress and also pay back.

Qn: What advice do you have for upcoming entrepreneurs?

A: At Orient Bank, we are in your corner cheering you on. So keep creating and Think Possibilities. The Orient Business Academy is one touch point that you should consider to learn those things you would otherwise never had the opportunity to learn. At the next level the bank has structured several products that are aimed at supporting the growth of SMEs, so pay us a visit.

Qn:  Your last comment…

A: We are happy about the impact of the academy so far and we invite more partners in this sector to grow impact. There is certainly amazing opportunity presented by our economy, the growth of technology and the entrepreneurial nature of our people. By supporting those who have chosen to innovate to solve our society’s problems we are not only helping them we are contributing to betterment of our society. 

Taddewo William Senyonyi
William is a seasoned business and finance journalist. He is also an agripreneur and a coffee enthusiast.

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