At a time when access to funding and capital-raising for business start-ups in Africa is difficult and stressful at the best of times, one Ugandan woman entrepreneur is looking to forge a path where few African women tread. Maria Auma is taking her passion for economics and financial management and building her company, Blue Luxury Investments, as a platform for investment management solutions for entrepreneurial ventures that are environmentally conscious, provide much-needed employment and are economically sustainable.
LoA spoke with Maria Auma this month about her personal entrepreneurial journey and her ambitious vision for her business going forward.
What does your company do?
Blue Luxury Investments is a privately-held, female-owned company that offers a wide range of investment management solutions to economically viable projects throughout Africa. Our focus is to empower African entrepreneurs seeking seed or mid-level funding because we believe in entrepreneurship and in Africa. Our services are tailored around raising capital, managing funds, monitoring and evaluating projects, and securing stakeholder partnerships. Aside from financial services, we offer turnkey solutions to the real estate sector, tourism sector, as well as consumer distribution sector.
"Our focus is to empower African entrepreneurs seeking seed or mid-level funding because we believe in entrepreneurship and in Africa."
What inspired you to start your company?
For a long time I realised that a lot of private firms and individuals were seeking fund management offshore, with very little empowerment being felt regionally here in Africa. In fact, even in the hedge fund management industry globally, the statistics of women actively involved or even owning their own investment management firm is daunting. Only about 10 percent of women are managing funds. If we bring this closer to home (East Africa), it is harder to find a single woman leading a hedge fund. Back in my high school and university days, I always had a passion for economics, even when majoring in the arts. I was 1 out of 5 of the 200 Mass Communication Students at Makerere University in Uganda that pursued Economics as an additional course. I knew there was something that needed to be done about our macroeconomic ecosystem. It took me three years to start, but I am glad I did. It's always nice to go where the few tread. As I speak, we are gaining more partners and partnerships, as well as project funding that I never dreamed possible.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
Our services are authentic. We are professional and we are passionate about what we do. Investment Management is a high-pressure job that involves fundraising, project/idea awareness raising, and a lot of mathematics. We love it anyway, and we love the smiles on the faces of our clients when they finally see their proposal getting approved for funding. We are also developing a product aimed at yielding profitable returns for our clients with larger pools of capital. We encourage submission of project proposals that are environmentally conscious, provide employment and economically sustainable.
"We encourage submission of project proposals that are environmentally conscious, provide employment and economically sustainable."
Tell us a little about your team
Our team is composed of professionals crossing over diverse skill sets from research analysts, marketeers, surveyors and valuers, to project managers, and we have close associations with the agriculture, oil and energy, and mining sectors of East Africa. As the team leader and the youngest in the firm, I always try to ensure my team stays motivated and our partners experience the very best of client relationships. We are specifically passionate about empowering and training women and the youth.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I started my first business in primary four, selling self written books with my close friend Sempijja Wavamunno, Pearl Nakimera and Lawrence. It was one of the most empowering moments of my life, because I realised then that all you needed to make money was a good idea. We would donate part of the proceeds to the local vocational centre. At that time, that first business idea unfortunately died, but my writing together with my entrepreneurial drive did not.
Even whilst I was studying at university I held leadership positions, and began my first job working as a website manager. But I was never good at sticking to one thing, so I quickly sought out other opportunities and soon became the General Manager of Trek Safaris Ltd, a tourism firm, where I supervised fresh graduates. I then realised that it was time for me to birth my dream of economic empowerment. So I set up my firm in 2014, and have slowly gained momentum. We now have partners in the United States, Greece, Netherlands, South Africa, East African region, even Zimbabwe! We are currently exploring in depth the European market. Sure there have been hurdles, multiple ones. But the beauty is that it teaches you humility - and humility is the one thing an investment manager needs.
"As an entrepreneur, being able to give back to society is the most rewarding experience. You can make billions of money, but it all means nothing if you can't lend a hand to the less fortunate."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
We plan to expand our company into North and West Africa to pursue private public partnerships, and especially energy distribution. Energy is expensive, even here in East Africa. We want to find affordable alternatives for the ordinary people, so that we can help to power Africa. North Africa is a good model to borrow from, in as far as sustainable energy is concerned, and we are sure that East Africa can set the standard for sustainable development too.
We also plan to get involved in more agricultural projects, particularly because access to food and water is critical for survival. The question is how to produce enough for the local market, before we export. And when we do export, we need to consider value addition of our commodities so that our forex has a very healthy reflection in the mirror. We hope that legislation around regional-trade will continue to improve all across Africa so that the cost of trade can drastically go down. The less the barriers, the better the trade, and the better our economic development and growth.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Being able to mentor others and to make a change in Africa gives me joy. I am proud of my roots. I think we are rich in culture and we should embrace it. It is what binds us. As an entrepreneur, being able to give back to society is the most rewarding experience. You can make billions of money, but it all means nothing if you can't lend a hand to the less fortunate. I do hope that I get more opportunities to invest in ideas that will benefit us as a community. Being an entrepreneur has taught me to be generous - and now I love it.
#EntrepreneurAdvice: "... dream big and then do it - that way you will inspire other women."
- Maria Auma @aumamaria #Uganda
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
It's hard for a fellow entrepreneur to give only one piece of advice. But I will compress my codes of ethics into one succinct paragraph. Never ever give up. If ever you find yourself on your knees, that is the perfect time to begin again. Never waste time. Once it's gone it's gone. Know your priorities and treat your family and friends well. Respect the people who work for you, they are human beings. And lastly, dream big and then do it - that way you will inspire other women.
Contact or follow Maria and Blue Luxury Investments
Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love those women entrepreneurs in Africa that have a vision for empowering others to follow in their footsteps, and Maria Auma of Blue Luxury Investments is certainly one of those. Acknowledging that access to finance for women in Africa is one of the biggest challenges and stumbling blocks to growth, the emergence of African, privately-held woman-owned investment management companies looking to support the continent’s entrepreneurs can only be a good thing. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa