It is also evidence of the talents of a new generation of Rwandan entrepreneurs. Celestine Makuza, the owner of Treasure Company Ltd, trading as The Events Factory, came back to Rwanda from exile to help rebuild the country after the genocide, and is still contributing to the nation’s reconstruction by pioneering his events management services.
Celestine was in fact born in Uganda, to which his parents, who were teachers, fled in the 1960s when civil strife started in Rwanda.
He studied Social Sciences in Uganda, and never thought that he would one day go into business. Yet every step of his career unwittingly gave him the skills that he would one day use as a successful entrepreneur.
His first job after his return to Rwanda in 1994 was as a logistics officer for a relief agency. He worked mainly on the procurement and shipping of food and equipment to the massive refugee camps after the genocide.
In 1999 he joined Rwanda’s finance department, giving him insight into the workings of government. He felt the first stirrings of restlessness typical of many entrepreneurs and he looked around for something more challenging.
This led him to a job as a business development officer in a growing imports and exports company, and he built up some international business experience, followed by a stint as the manager of a printing workshop and later as the country manager for Fedex.
By the age of 37, with a formidable business network and years of experience in the business world of Kigali, he realised that it was now or never if he wanted to break free from the “routine of working for others”.
During a holiday, he took on the challenge of organising an international trade fair in Kigali. Celestine explains that the idea of organising an event as a specialist contractor was unknown at that stage in Rwanda. If an organisation wanted to stage something, they would use their own administrative staff, with often messy, unprofessional results.
The trade fair went well, and a second event that he organised as a freelancer added to his confidence that events management offered an excellent business opportunity.
Starting his own business in a non-existent industry was scary, nonetheless. He had a young family, and often did not know where his next pay check would come from. The first few months were terrifying as he saw his reserves dwindle.
Celestine describes his first marketing efforts as “super aggressive”, because he knew his livelihood depended on it.
This, together with the admiration that he had won for organising the international trade fair, landed him his first small assignments. Hawking a foreign concept was extremely difficult though, and often months would pass between contracts. More than once he thought of giving up and dusting off his CV, but “a small spark inside” of him always made him hold out that extra two weeks longer.
Just as his business was taking off, he landed an awkward opportunity - a two-and-a-half month business internship at the wholesale giant Costco in the US. It was an amazing experience, but because his business was so young, he almost had to start from scratch when he returned.
The advantage, however, was that he came back fully energised and inspired by what he had learned, and since then Celestine never looked back
Celestine’s first employee was a part-timer whom he would call when he needed help, but soon he started employing full time workers. His first appointee was a graphic designer, which immediately distinguished his company’s work for its professionalism.
Celestine, who calls himself debt-averse, used the banks for short-term project finance, until a friend introduced him to Business Partners Rwanda (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), a specialist risk finance company for formal small and medium enterprises (SMEs), about four years ago. At that stage he was working from a small office next to his home and his plan was to expand his business premises bit by bit.
After meeting with BUSINESS/PARTNERS, however, he decided to take finance from them to buy a whole new building with a storage warehouse at the bottom and offices on top. He also took up technical assistance funding and support to develop his IT systems from the same company. Today, just as he is about to complete the repayment of the loan, he finds that his business is about to outgrow the premises. His plan now is to add another level on to his building, and to buy the adjacent plot for the business.
Today Celestine employs seven full-time staff members. The Events Factory has developed five distinct services: organising events, exhibitions, online booking and registration services, translation services, and the renting out of conferencing equipment.
Pride of place in the company’s growing stock of equipment is a state-of-the-art translation suite, complete with headsets, booths and all the translation infrastructure needed for international conferences.
Celestine is not averse to looking for business in the wider region, and has already organised events in neighbouring Tanzania among other places. But he expects that growth opportunities in Kigali alone will keep his business busy and growing for many years.