For many startups, taking their businesses to the next level can be challenging. In Uganda, one woman entrepreneur is helping small business owners to increase their production capacity and access finance. Maria Auma, founder of Blue Luxury Investments, is bringing her expertise and investment community to help startups to fulfill their potential.
LoA chatted to founder Maria Auma this month to get an update on this interesting business.
What does your company do?
BLI is an investment management firm that works with startups in Africa to build sustainable businesses with high impact. We work with entrepreneurs and small businesses to increase their capacity for production and marketing as well as facilitate access to finance. Our investors include angels, venture capitalists and family offices. We also work with deal originators like Adansonia and Orbitt Capital. In the past two years we have worked with women-owned businesses in tech and education including Compusoft Consult and Barlaws Primary and Nursery School in Uganda. We have also worked with agribusiness entreprises introducing them to international platforms in the Middle East and Europe. We are currently reviewing proposals with a number of enterprises in the energy sector in line with our current mandate. Some of our clientele and portfolio companies include Shanikai Dog Trainers, Farmer Centre Uganda, Waterside Wines and Uganda District Website. Currently, we are raising capital for our fund directed at African businesses.
"We work with entrepreneurs and small businesses to increase their capacity for production and marketing as well as facilitate access to finance."
What inspired you to start your company?
Everyday I find inspiration to re-start our company. The reason I got into the finance world was because I realised that access to capital was a major constraint to business growth in Africa. I started moonlighting while working at my previous job in engineering and project management consultancy. At the time I was brokering deals in real estate with investors in the diaspora and Ugandans. I soon realised that there was this pool of resources only redirected at real estate and money was flowing into one sector. Then in mid-2016, I attended a think-tank conference in Rwanda and was amazed by the investment gap that was prevalent in African growth. There were a number of significant figures and organisations present including the UN, Dalberg, the World Bank, Africa Business Group and H.E. President Paul Kagame. That experience bore in me a resolution to redefine BLI's objectives and mission. From there it has been an amazing journey of experiences.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
At BLI we invest our own time, energy and money into the companies we work with. This is why investors trust us, because they know that we have skin in the game as well and are not simply soliciting for support without giving up anything on our end. We are active partners and ensure that the businesses we work with get the very best advice to not only make them investor ready but also increase their market share in their respective sectors. Market share is important because it is what determines sales and ensures sustainable growth.
"The reason I got into the finance world was because I realised that access to capital was a major constraint to business growth in Africa."
Tell us a little about your team
We currently have three full time team members and two part-time workers. Our recent recruitment has gone a long way in ensuring that we stay on track with our objectives. Everyone on the team pulls their weight to ensure timelines are met. We all bring on board a wealth of experience in strategy, corporate governance, fundraising, finance, marketing and legal. Our team has experience running businesses of their own in Africa and are aware of the prevalent barriers and challenges faced by African entrepreneurs.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
I started business at a very young age and have never looked back since. The last year however has been an eye-opening, jaw-rubbing experience for me in entrepreneurship. My partner and I recently got into the importation business and gained a wealth of experience learning the real hustles of the taxation system. I learned a lot about how to deal with customer deliveries, delayed payments, marketing, branding and promotion. Despite the challenges faced, our team is immensely grateful for the lessons learned. We had some real victories and some major failures too. Even though we both had run separate businesses in the past, operating one together has given us the added advantage of knowing our strengths and weaknesses, where we compliment one another and appreciating the entrepreneurial journey as a whole. It's much better to have a team that has your back through the tough times, than to try and go it alone.
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
In the next five years we envision our fund being at the centre of Africa's successful startups. We want to help change the narrative of Africa as a continent that lacks proper accountability for funds to a continent that can innovate the best solutions while improving the livelihoods of its communities.
"We want to help change the narrative of Africa as a continent that lacks proper accountability for funds to a continent that can innovate the best solutions while improving the livelihoods of its communities."
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
Working with our portfolio companies and forging partnerships with companies and people that have the same vision for Africa is a thrilling and rejuvenating experience. We have realised that there are very many people out there who want to see Africa succeed. Lots of Africans in the diaspora too are keen on leaving a positive impact, and they contribute to this dream either financially or by setting up their own enterprise. Constant interactions with these diverse mindsets reassures us that we are on the right path, and re-energises us to keep at it.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Manage your time wisely. 365 days is not much in the business realm. Have a vision and make steady steps towards achieving that vision. Seek out meaningful partnerships, and treat your team members with respect. Still, for me, time management really is key. Be wise on how and who you spend it with. Make time for people and things that are important to you. I am fortunate to have an understanding partner, and I think every woman would benefit from having a strong support system.
Contact or follow Blue Luxury Investments
Why LoA loves it….
Many startup businesses need access to support and resources to grow, but that support can often be hard to come by in the early years. Maria Auma is working to address this challenge in Uganda, identifying and investing in small businesses that have the potential to grow. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa