Let me present to you a young lady from Uganda who never thought in life she could own her own business. This is how she tells her story…

Mbale Entrepreneur

My name is Namono Helen; I am married with two children. I was once living in Tororo a far district from Mbale town. I used to plait my aunt’s hair on a small commission. I had learnt how to plait hair but could do it only on a small scale with friends and family as my customers.

One time, my aunt called me to Mbale to plait her hair and so I had to travel from my village to where she was staying. I worked on her hair and later went back home. Suddenly everyone who saw my aunt was complimenting her on how smart her hair looked. It so happened that she was a host mother to Balloon volunteers, they seemed interested in plaiting their hair as well. The volunteers asked my aunt if they could meet me one day to do their hair.

I received a call one evening from my aunt who asked to see me urgently. I went to Mbale to see her and that’s where I found Balloon volunteers who talked to me about joining the programme because they realised I had skills that would make me become a good entrepreneur. They talked to me about learning more about business models and finance, getting an interest free loan and many other things. I was very interested in getting the knowledge and skills but I was worried to join because I feared loans since I had no business running at that time. I didn’t want to have a burden of paying back the loan.

However, the volunteers convinced me that the most important thing is getting the knowledge and skills which are vital in becoming a successful entrepreneur. I asked them if I could get time and think about it. I went back home and talked to my husband about it. He was very supportive and he encouraged me to join the Balloon Program. One of the challenges I faced before becoming a full participant was travelling from my district to Mbale for the entrepreneur assessment and orientation. I realised that it might affect my performance in the program so I decided to use the small savings I had to rent an adequate but basic room in Bungokho village, Mbale.

Next I was introduced to the volunteers who were going to work with me during the ten-week program. Ellis, Jordan, and Noreen were my volunteers who were very supportive throughout the whole program.

We started with classroom sessions, which were very interesting and full of learning. I loved the Business Model Canvas as it allowed me to vision how a business would look on one side of paper. The only challenge I encountered during the classroom sessions was the language since I was not literate, I could not understand some of the information in the handouts. However the Ugandan volunteer was very supportive because she would always translate for me in the local language.

The next stage was testing my ideas and finding out if I really possessed the skills to run the salon. That moment was tough for me because I did not have a saloon of my own, nor did I know anyone in Mbale with a salon; so it was going to be very challenging to test my skills. However, my volunteers encouraged me to be strong and courageous to just identify any salon and ask if they could allow me use it for the trialling. One of my friends identified a near by salon in the village next to where I was staying. I moved with my volunteers to talk to the manager of the salon. He was called Sparkle who owned Sparkle Beauty Salon. We asked him if he could allow me use his saloon for testing, his response was very positive and we were to use the salon without paying a single coin.

We started with testing how efficient I was in weaving and braiding hair and how much time I would spend on a customer. I got a number of customers to work on and in a day I would manage to plait about 3 heads. I used to get my customers to write down feedback to my work and they would record it in a book every time I plaited them.

The next step was testing how well I can use the saloon instruments and machines. This involved using chemicals for re-touch, treatment and hot combing hair. I worked on a number of customers for about a week and by then I had got most of the assumptions validated and ready to start my own saloon. I realised that I needed to start making my own money because what I was doing was for the benefit of the owner of Sparkle saloon.

I thought of getting a place where I could station and start a small salon dealing in weaving for the start. My aunt helped me talk to one guy who was having a mobile money shop to help me with a small space in his shop, where I could put my stuff and work. The guy was very helpful, he allowed me to operate in the corner of his shop for the mean time. I got a testing budget from the volunteers, which I used to buy a few weaves, braids and threads for braiding.

Whilst working there for about two weeks, I realised that there was a spare room next to where I was operating from, yet the person who was there before was leaving. I realised that if I took up that room, it would be easy for me to keep track of my customers. Even though the room was a bit expensive, I accepted to rent it out.

Currently am operating in the same area and my saloon is growing every single day. I was able to get the loan from Balloon, which has helped me increase on my stock. Because this season hasn’t been very favourable, I was able to start cross selling by supplying foodstuff to schoolchildren. I wake up in the morning to prepare samosas, donuts and chapatti’s that I deliver them to the school and later come back at around 8:30am to open my salon. On an average day I save 20,000 shillings from the food supplies while at the salon I make about 10,000 shilling profits a day.

I am looking forward to getting more customers, pay off my loan and start investing all my profits in the business so that it can grow bigger and expand. I am very grateful for Balloon because it made be the person I am right now.

I encourage all the young people out there to utilise the little resource they have and make up something of their own. I learnt from Balloon that its not capital which begins a business, its rather an idea and passion to do something for yourself.


Namono Helen, Balloon Entrepreneur working with ICS Volunteers in Mbale, Uganda, 2015