Lizzie Muthoni Wanyoike is a teacher by profession, and the Founder and Managing Director of NIBS Technical College and The Emory Hotel in Kileleshwa.
Tell us about your businesses?
NIBS offers training in technical and business studies from Artisan to Diploma levels. Initially, I started the Emory Hotel with the aim of creating job opportunities, and to provide students pursuing different courses in hospitality with a platform where they could gain practical experiences. So far, the hotel has created more than 500 jobs, and offers hospitality services to the public.
How did you start these two enterprises?
To come up with the capital I needed to start NIBS, I used the money I had saved for about 20 years, took a loan from the bank, and also sold a house.
My late husband was very supportive in terms of providing the financial resources, which enabled me to save huge portions of my salary, and also to invest in cheap plots that later became prime parcels of land.
By the time I started the hotel business, I had already established very good relationships with local banks. I borrowed around Sh300 million from two local banks and started the project.
Was it difficult to do all this as a woman?
Succeeding as a woman entrepreneur in Kenya is definitely not easy. There are many tough challenges which will test your faith in God, and demand strong character from you. I have also learnt that it is important to avoid making enemies, although it is impossible to grow without facing insults and bad publicity from detractors.
I remember when I started, I rented a building in town that had a six-year lease on it, but when the business picked up, the owners violated the agreement and kicked me out. I decided to fight back.
I went to court and won the case, but I learnt valuable lessons. I vowed to put every effort to ensure I bought my own premises. I bought shares from Equity Bank in bulk and later sold them at a very good rate.
I used these proceeds to buy a 10-acre piece of land in Ruiru where I put up housing units that could hold 2,000 students. My dream came true. The facility now accommodates more students and some workshops too.
What challenges have you faced in this journey?
It was tough fighting over property with the landlord who had leased it to me because I had just started out. I also faced stiff competition from older institutions, and that meant that I had to be trustworthy and meet the set standards. Since my business mainly involves nurturing the youth, I have faced so many challenges.
Most of our youth struggle to keep their jobs, are in the wrong careers, are forced to take despicable jobs just to survive, are unable to complete their college studies, and are contending with unforeseen issues such as pregnancies and early fatherhood. So many of them are depressed. Facing such people every day is troubling, but I have decided to offer free counselling services through different forums instead of complaining about it.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs?
Be strong, stay focused on your dream, and do what it takes to make it come true. Success requires a lot of hard work, but you must know that nothing good comes on a silver platter. Success is a journey, not an event. It comes gradually, by following the right path.
What other milestones have you recorded in your career?
Last year, I scooped the prestigious EY Entrepreneur of the Year award. It was a proud moment for me. I felt like I had finally crossed the finish line after a marathon that had taken three decades. I am also very pleased with the positive impact that my entrepreneurial endeavours have had on young people in the country.
Does one have to go to college to succeed in today’s world?
I don’t discourage people from going to university. I am a diploma holder, and it made me work hard. I have employed individuals with very high academic qualifications to help me in my areas of weakness. This shows that pursuing academic excellence is not an exercise in futility.
What is your next big project?
I want to put up a preparatory school, which will, hopefully, be my last project. My children are already in the business and are ready to take over from me.