ARTICLE – Balloon Kenya: Out in Africa, Advising Its Entrepreneurs – Leicester Mercury Article

In January this year, mid way through a Finance Placement with German giants Bosch, I began to look at ways I could spend my summer. Many of my friends were heading to the Balearic’s for an alcohol fuelled summer, but I wanted to do something different that would help with my final year of University and also with the ever increasing competition in the graduate market. Whilst applying for internships with major banks I stumbled upon Balloon Kenya, a project based in Nakuru, Kenya that works with entrepreneurs in Africa’s fastest growing city. After an initial application form asking what I could bring to the programme and why I wanted to travel to Kenya I received a telephone interview. The interview was competency and situation based, asking how I would deal with certain problems in Kenya. Whilst on a treadmill I received an e-mail to say that I’d been selected to travel to Kenya to participate in the August programme.

Balloon Kenya was founded by recent graduates Josh Bicknell and Doug Cochrane in 2011. Josh travelled to Kenya in 2008 and based his Masters Degree dissertation on the political violence that the country had faced and witnessed a strong entrepreneurial spirit despite the struggles. Having struggled to find graduate employment themselves they headed to Kenya with six students (Fellows) from across the world in 2011. They had put together a syllabus for Fellows to teach to groups of Kenyans based around Osterwalder Business Model Canvas and also used small, but effective business principles such as Gross Profit Margins and Cash Flow Statements. The program has grown substantially and in 2013 sent 54 students to Kenya over two separate programmes and received over 400 applications, working with over 200 Kenyan entrepreneurs.

I’d saved over £1,000 from my placement year, I needed to raise a further £2,500 to be able to attend, however this target did not frighten me as I was determined that I’d be on a flight to Kenya. I was fortunate to be awarded the Innovation Award from Sheffield Hallam Student Union and also grants from Leicestershire the Andrew Martin Trust for Young People, the Soar Valley Leicester Centre and the Clarke and Somerville Foundaion. I also had full support from Loughborough MP, Nicky Morgan, who worked with me to reach my target.

I woke on the Wednesday, two days prior to leaving for Kenya, to see that Jomo Kenyatta Airport was ablaze. I kept cool and managed to re-arrange my flight to Entebbe, Uganda. Upon arrival in Uganda we were informed that we needed to take a seven hour bus journey to Nakuru, sixteen hours later we arrived at our destination. Although the bus journey took a while it allowed me to watch East Africa pass by the window, giving me my first encounter of poverty from the safety of the bus.

Although the first week of the programme was classroom based we spent very little time sitting down. We spent time sticking Post-It’s to walls and going out talking to Kenyans on the street. This is how they wanted us to deliver the program to Kenyan entrepreneurs, seeing us facilitate rather than lead. We didn’t want to force ideas into their heads, but encourage them to think outside the box. Steering them away from the ‘copy cat culture’ which see streets full of people offering the same products or services.

Weeks two and three saw me and a partner begin classroom sessions, working with two groups, consisting of eleven Kenyans in total. They had varying businesses from fruit stalls, shoe shops, Boda-Boda (Motorbike) transport service and another wanted to start an affordable recording studio. They all want to grow their businesses and improve their standard of living, as some earn as little as two pounds per day. Each of the two groups received ten hours of tuition over the first two weeks.

Testing and continued market research followed in week four and the beginning of week five. Armed with questionnaires the entrepreneurs took to the streets of Nakuru to gain opinions on their current service and their proposed change to see what their consumer would like. We also arranged meetings with people who had experience in the field they were venturing into.

Two days before my departure the individuals pitched for a micro-finance fund at Balloon Kenya’s partner Hope and Vision, who provide support for Nakuru based entrepreneurs. Each of them came out with huge smiles and said that even if they did not receive the investment, they felt that the education delivered would help them improve in business.

Balloon Kenya delivers welcoming news from Kenya, as the country has recently been at the centre of media attention. I am pleased that I have been able to attend a programme which has allowed me to work with people who may not be as fortunate as we are, but still have enormous smiles on their faces.

I now return to Sheffield Business School as the Finance Director of the Enterprise Society. Hoping to bring the Kenyan entrepreneurial spirit to the students of Sheffield. Away from my studies I shall be trying my hardest to attain a graduate position in either Consultancy or Finance, relating the skills I gained in Kenya to positions.

BLOG – Ethiopian Hatricks, Two Page Articles, Boot Camps and a Man Named Chimbonda

Yesterday was a busy day of meetings looking into how we are going to approach the launch of Balloon Kenya in partnership with Hallam Union.

After the success of my trip over the summer Hallam Union would like to fund two places next summer to join the programme in June 2014.

We shall be looking for the Universities top talent and launching the campaign in the first week of November. Lots of people have shown an interest already which is really exciting!

I met the President of the Union in a bar in Sheffield in the week and he was fully aware of the project and gave me his number if I needed any assistance, which was nice!

As the leaves mount up on the pavements of Sheffield, as does the work load. Corporate Finance being today’s reading topic.

Last Thursday I spent the day in Manchester at a careers fair of 3,000 students and 50 graduate employers. One of Next’s HR Officers described me as the ‘sharpest’ student at the event in my light grey suit with navy tie. I had some great chats with some of the employers there, but also some of the students too.

Last Saturday I got the opportunity to watch my beloved Carlisle United play in Manchester. Despite the loss it was a nice day out! I also saw Pascal Chimbonda make his début for the club.

Leicester Mercury

I appeared in the Business Magazine of the Leicester Mercury on Tuesday. An article that I wrote about a month ago appeared over two pages of their monthly magazine. Thanks to their Business Editor, Ian for sorting it!

Garlick scored a hat trick in an Ethiopian shirt this week and it was nice to get my football boots back on and escape university for an hour with friends. The decision on the next African nation I shall represent is difficult after the haul of football shirts I bought back from Kenya (Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Nakuru Allstars, South Sudan and Ethiopia).

This week shall see me represent Sheffield Business Schools Enterprise Society in Birmingham at NACUE’s (National Association of College & University Entrepreneurs) boot camp. It’ll be great to join fellow Enterprise Committee members from across the country to share some ideas. I may have a cheeky stop of in Leicester to see the family too!

BLOG – Hello Sheffield!

First of all apologies for the silence! I made it home from Kenya safely, but I’ve had a whirlwind two weeks.

It was surreal during my last weekend in Kenya having visited West Gate Mall just two weeks before the attack. The siege was plastered all over the Kenyan media, just as it was when I returned to the UK. I passed through Nairobi, within half a mile of the shopping centre on the second day of the siege on my way to the airport. We just sailed through as if nothing had happened, as it was dark and the dark smoke filled clouds could not be seen.

Six weeks prior to my departure from Nairobi the airport had suffered a fire – two days before my arrival. You may remember my blog about a long coach journey through Uganda and eventually onto Kenya. The structure of the terminal is still intact, however you can see the charred flame licked edges still. After passing through strict security checks we were allowed through to the ‘Departure Tents’, which were huge marquees with a flat screen television and Wi-Fi. Our flight for Zurich left on time and after being frisked at 06:30 I made my connection to London.

London was cold and overcast on arrival. I was concious of my body odour on the bus journey to Leicester and can only apologise to the lady who I shared a good chat with on the coach.

I spent two full days in Leicester seeing family and catching up with friends before returning north to Sheffield on Thursday. I managed to produce an article for the Leicester Mercury and I shall be working with the newspapers Business Editor to smooth it off this week. I was whisked straight into a presentation on the Thursday afternoon, presenting to over 50 Enterprise students about the Enterprise Society which I shall be looking after the finances for. A presentation to second year Business Studies followed, presenting to 100 students about my placement journey, with the focus of the talk being around resilience and not giving up. Both of the presentations were well received and I felt confident presenting, despite the big audience. I feel my placement where I regularly presented KPI’s to Directors and teaching in Kenya will of helped with this.

On Friday I sat in two Welcome Back presentations with the aim of gearing us up for our final year at the University, before returning back to Leicester for the weekend to collect the remainder of my things.

Monday started early with one of my electives – Contemporary Issues in International Business which looks at business in emerging markets. I rushed home to have a skype chat with my Career Advisor Aimee (check out http://www.careercake.com) which was good and we spoke about going for graduate opportunities. I then went for tea with Hallam Union’s Student Development Manager, Vanessa and we discussed about my trip and how I can help other students gain a similar experience. I was fortunate to be sponsored by the Union and due to my success they want to sponsor two students to go on the 2014 Balloon Kenya trip.

Tuesday saw me meet with one of the Universities Press Team to discuss a piece for the University and local press in regards to Kenya, which will go live tomorrow (Monday 7th), so look out for that! The afternoon was spent rummaging through BAE’s Annual Report before the first meeting of the Enterprise Society Committee – which is looking really exciting!

I worked for The Economist on Wednesday morning at Sheffield University, we managed to sign up over 120 people to the magazine between a team of 5, which wasn’t bad going!

Meeting about the launch of the Enterprise Society Launch at lunch on Thursday went well. We shall be launching the society next Wednesday with food and a number of local entrepreneurs, who will be giving presentations.

Friday was another busy one. Two hours of lectures followed by a short meeting with the Head of the Placement Team, who has asked me to be a volunteer at the Universities Placement Employers Fair, which I have agreed to do. It will involve helping to introduce second years to potential employers. I then proceeded to a meeting with the Head of Business and Enterprise Management to discuss the Enterprise Society. An hour lecture about the Agency Problem in finance followed before I gave a presentation to 150 students about my placement (the presentations being re-cycled well!). I then met with my Placement Tutor to discuss my essay and opportunities in my final year.

So BUSY, BUSY, BUSY. I have managed to fit in a little bit of partying also, after all it has been Freshers!

I’ve been invited to speak at the opening of the Employability Hub and shall be speaking in their Global Graduates afternoon on Tuesday between 13:00-15:00. I shall also be dressing up as one of the 118 men, joining the Athletics team on their social, as my house mate is the Chairman.

I’m still providing advice to my Kenyans via WhatsApp, which I am happy to do. It’s also nice to wake up to them messaging me saying morning 🙂

Oh I also made contact with a former ‘Dragon’ who said they’d be interested in speaking at our Enterprise Week!

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: One Hell of a Journey

Wednesday’s fire at Nairobi’s airport meant that the tents that they had erected were only able to cope with a small proportion of its normal schedule. This meant that the Balloon Kenya Fellows were sent to various airports across East Africa.

The night before Christmas was the only way to describe the amount of sleep I got prior to travelling to the airport – none. In all fairness it wouldn’t of been a great night’s sleep bearing in mind my alarm was set for 01:45 in order to catch my flight from Heathrow at 06:50.

The first flight left slightly late and was bound for Brussels, a 2 hour wait then saw us join a connection to Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. The flight was again delayed and was sat on the concourse for an hour longer than it should of meaning that we arrived in Uganda’s at gone midnight.

Our first night was spent in a lodge on the shore of Lake Victoria, near Entebbe. We arrived at the hotel at just after 01:00 and were told that an evening meal had been prepared. After eating we got to bed around 02:00 and set an alarm for 04:15 for breakfast before leaving for Kenya by coach at 05:00.

An entourage of 5 coaches were outside the hotel for the 10 hour journey to Nairobi – so we were told. We knew that Nairobi was 3 hours from Nakuru and thought that the journey would take around 7 hours to travel. Having only just crossed the Kenyan border after 7 hours we thought that it might take longer than we were told and arrived at the hotel at gone 21:00.

Image

However the bubble of the coach allowed me to witness the beauty of both Uganda and Kenya. Uganda notably has better roads for example. I’ll never forget watch the silhouettes of fisherman head out over Lake Victoria on a misty sunrise, it was beautiful!

We passed through Kampala, the capital of Uganda and it couldn’t be compared to our capital. I took note of different things on my journey and I’ll share them with you:

  • Shacks selling everything from bike parts to bananas to toilets, bed frames and coffins line the majority of the roads
  • Packed streets at 7am – Kampala was full of bikes, motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars
  • A cow on a petrol forecourt
  • Motorbikes with up to 4/5 people on them (some children)
  • A Leicester City shirt in the small Kenyan town of Bungoma
  • People with AK47’s wearing high-vis acting as traffic lights at roadwork’s holding green and red flags

I’ve only been here three days, but I’m loving it!

BLOG – Balloon Kenya: Hello Uganda!

As you will of probably been aware, yesterday morning Nairobi Airport suffered a major fire in its Arrivals Hall and flight are now bring sent all over East Africa.

Going into my business mode (thanks Bosch for honing this talent) I assessed all the possibilities and spoke to all the different stake holders to assess my options and kept cool.

Initially I spoke with my airline who would not allow me to check into my flight from Brussels to Nairobi as they were unsure of whether or not the flight would be going. A later call confirmed that the flight had been cancelled and that I would have to talk to my travel provider. After talking to numerous people I am now flying from London to Brussels at 06:50 tomorrow, Brussels to Entebbe in Uganda, landing at 11pm, spending a few hours in a hotel before a 5am bus to Nairobi that will take 10 hours.

I instantly googled Entebbe’s location (I didn’t have a clue where it was) and I have noticed the Nakuru (home of Balloon Kenya) is on route to Nairobi, so I hope they will be able to drop me off there! Otherwise the journey will have an extra 6/7 hours added to it as Nairobi is 3 hours past Nakuru.

I tried contacting the Ugandan High Commission when I got home just after 16:00 to find they close at 16:00 and at 16:03 nobody answered. Hopefully they’ll of taken the diversion into account in regards to the visa.

Entebbe’s Airport is on the tip of Lake Victoria so hopefully I’ll get some decent pictures!

Top marks to the Balloon Kenya team who had everything in place for our arrivals in Nairobi, but they have been great help with their contingency planning!

A family BBQ to enjoy and then an early start for Heathrow!