A decade of committed support from King Baudouin Foundation for Congolese start-up incubator I&F Entrepreneuriat has helped it develop hundreds of job-creating businesses, while gaining national and international recognition for its work.
Directing philanthropy towards nurturing grassroots entrepreneurs so they can make a sustainable contribution to their society is one of the key missions of KBF. The Foundation’s backing for an organisation that ‘incubates’ businesses started by young people in the Democratic Republic of Congo has shown that seeing things through for the long term helps get results. KBF has supported I&F Entrepreneuriat via a substantial legacy fund since 2012, with grants totalling more than 570,000 euros. Now the Congolese non-profit has gone from being a modest local organisation to being recognised nationally and internationally.
Set up in 2007 by CEO Val Masamba, I&F is today coordinating more than 1,000 businesses in incubation, 40% of which are run by women. After initial support and mentoring, the best projects are selected to go into a ‘nursery’ phase to move them from the idea stage to being a business entity. They then enter a specially created industrial zone at Mbanza-Ngungu, between the capital Kinshasa and the country’s main port of Matadi, which has premises and shared facilities to further scale up these nascent enterprises.
Since 2020, a consortium that includes global professional services firm Deloitte, fellow start-up incubator Kivu Entrepreneurs and I&F has been supporting a Congolese government programme for the promotion of economic initiatives. Known as PADMPME and with 100 million dollars in financing from the World Bank, I&F is the operational coordinator for the consortium. Also through PADMPME, I&F is working with consultants KPMG and ESP to set up small business zones in other towns, drawing on the Mbanza-Ngungu model.
Emphasising that he is, above all, a coach, Masamba says the key to succeeding is to truly listen to the young people, right from the beginning of their projects: “A company is an adventure they launch with the people around them,” he says. “Very quickly, young entrepreneurs have to be made to face up to choices. Who to keep and who to let go? What training do they need? What to sacrifice first? Because, in the end, a coach is a friend.”
When the government banned production of traditional plastic packaging, Yedidia Mbengalikita realised there were no local alternatives. He is now managing director of Ishango, which makes biodegradable packaging in Kinshasa, employing a dozen young people.
“I said to myself that we had to set up a company to produce packaging that met the environmental standards that the government wanted. Under the guidance of I&F, I started in my bedroom more than three years ago. I had no idea how to write a business plan,” he said. Also thanks to the incubator, Ishango is part of an entrepreneurial network whose partners account for more than 30% of the firm’s 10,000 U.S. dollar turnover.
The commitment of I&F shows in the evolution of Sivi Malukisa Diawete from hobby entrepreneur to founder of a company selling 100% Congolese food products. She began making homemade jams, peanut butter, sauces and honey in 2013 but kept her day job as a human resources manager at DHL. That changed after she met Val Masamba. Over four years, I&F then mentored her business.
“Val really convinced me. I decided to quit my job and become a 100% entrepreneur,” Malukisa Diawete said. She is now founder and CEO of agro-industrial firm Manitech Congo.
Luc Maboti’s company EMAVAS takes sand from the river Congo and supplies it to construction sites in the port city of Matadi, including roads, schools, and hospitals. Support from I&F has enabled him to create a formal corporate structure and to double his number of motorised canoes, from two to four. Production has increased from 40 tonnes of sand per day to up to 120 tonnes.
“I&F’s support has really allowed me to sit down, plan, and structure a real company,” Maboti said. He has also benefited from the PADMPME programme, including a 50,000 U.S. dollar loan to help buy a vehicle for delivering supplies to customers.
I&F is supporting coffee producer Tisya Mukuna to grow her business by industrialising production. Founder of the La Kinoise brand, she grows coffee on a 20-hectare plantation south of Kinshasa, where much work is still done by hand. Unlike most Congolese coffee farmers, Mukuna’s company also turns the crop into the final consumer product. With a grant awarded through the PADMPME programme, the firm plans to expand from turning out 200 packs of coffee per day at present to 40 packs per minute, and work towards becoming the leading coffee producing company in the country. Among future plans are a harvesting machine and a wholly local ‘mochaccino’ blend, using coffee and chocolate both grown by La Kinoise.
Investing in Africa’s youth
I&F Entrepreneuriat has been supported since 2012 by the KBF-managed Marie-Antoinette Carlier Fund. Ms Carlier was the daughter of one of the founders of the Belgian oil company Petrofina. She died in 2007 and gifted part of her estate to the KBF. According to her wishes, the legacy fund supports initiatives that improve the living conditions of young people and their families in Burundi and DR Congo. It has an annual budget of € 500.000.
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