The same way I struggled to correctly spell and pronounce the word ‘entrepreneurship’, I grappled with what it really meant. I was introduced to this word by the CEO of Junior Achievement (JA) Uganda, Josephine Kaleebi, in 2013. I was in Uganda for pursuing my bachelor’s degree in medicine at the University of Groningen, in The Netherlands. During a conversation with Josephine about what entrepreneurship is and what JA does, she invited me to accompany her on school visits in the Masindi region. I gladly accepted the invitation. While on that trip, we met several pupils who developed in-school- companies through the JA program.
It was inspiring to meet these young innovators who, despite not having prior business education, could speak candidly about topics such as managerial structures, shareholders, sales and assets, and key partners, after just a few months of taking part in the JA program. What was most enticing to me was the link between the JA program and the subjects taught in the school curriculum such as economics, math, science and chemistry. Pupils used these subjects to generate ideas for their companies. For example, one company applied methods learned in science and chemistry practicals to make soap. They also applied math for bookkeeping. These in-school-companies only run for eight months, from inception to liquidation, offering pupils the opportunity to go through the entire entrepreneurial process within just one school year.
Inspired by them, I volunteered in more JA activities, such as the regional and national expos. Upon my return to The Netherlands, I could not help but think about the pupils I met in Uganda and the business opportunities I had recognized. Nine months later, I was back in Uganda. I decided to go through the JA experience and chose to start a chicken farm, without having any prior knowledge in poultry farming. I had saved up $730.Our family home had some empty buildings, and my uncle had a chicken farm with over 2000 birds. I chose to rear broilers due to their anticipated quick turnaround time of siz to seven weeks). I worked with my uncle for two weeks to learn the basics, and within one month, the chicken farm was up and running. Things were great during the first two months andI made good profit.
During that time, I also discovered that I could fulfill multiple roles and enjoyed doing so. I was the general manager, the accountant, the production manager, the sales and marketing manager, the innovator and so on. This was the pivotal moment when I discovered my entrepreneurial potential. Because business at the chicken farm was going so well, I acquired a loan to scale from 400 to 800 birds. This was when things became problematic. Firstly, having to hire personnel (I had worked alone before) brought on managerial and productivity issues. Secondly, there was a long drought that raised the cost of production through increased water bills and decreased my profits. Thirdly, the empty buildings could not accommodate the increase in the number of birds, resulting in a housing crisis that further limited production and profits. I let go of my personnel and continued working alone. I managed to break even in the subsequent cycle, but ran into losses in the cycle that followed. I paid off the loan by selling my fixed assets and returned to The Netherlands to start my Master’s program. Back in The Netherlands, I was curious to find out what went wrong with the chicken farm, and how to avoid such mistakes again in the future. Furthermore, I wanted to work in a team, because firing employees could be the only solution to a managerial crisis.
I applied for a course on entrepreneurship offered by the University of Groningen Centre of Entrepreneurship. We were taught the principles of entrepreneurship and I recognized most of the lessons learned during my JA experience in Uganda. The course came to completion with a ‘start-up weekend’, where I worked on a business idea for Uganda with two other participants. With this idea, I won the prize of ‘best pitcher’. We were even invited to participate in an accelerator program offered by VentureLab North. However, I decided to rather focus on completing my studies and getting a medical degree.
After completing the second year of medical school, I applied for a minor of Entrepreneurship. There, I started to get some answers about what had gone wrong with my chicken farm business. I had scaled too soon. I had applied aspects of the entrepreneurial process without knowing the theories behind them. With the JA experience, I learnt the ‘how’, and with the minor, I learnt the ‘why’ of entrepreneurship. I concluded the minor with the highest score for a reflective assignment on entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is an iterative process, which is best learned by doing. The more a person engages in the experience, the more learning occurs. I am now in my final year of my medical degree. My conviction to first get my medical degree is as strong as it has been. I have learned that it is best to be an entrepreneur in a field that you have expertise. Therefore, I first want to become an expert in the medical field. I have now built a small entrepreneurial network, through which I recently received the opportunity to become part of a young health care start-up. Thus, my entrepreneurial journey continues.
The chicken farm First cycle results Chicken Farm (up) at day 1 & below at week 5
The start-up weekend;Pitching at the start-up weekend in March 2017
Extreme right, Part of the panel of judges for the National Company of the Year 2014