Kenya Association of Manufacturing (KAM) and UN Women today held a workshop themed STEP AHEAD – EMPOWERING WOMEN IN INDUSTRY.

I was humbled and privileged to interact with young women in the manufacturing sector through my keynote address that offered practical solutions to women who are currently operating small businesses to scale up and increase their market reach as well as their quality of production.

In July 2016, the UN General Assembly collectively adopted a resolution which declared the year 2016 to 2025 as the Third Industrial Development Decade for Africa. 

Africa is home to more women entrepreneurs than any other region in the world. In 2016, an estimated 163 million women were starting or running new businesses in 74 economies around the world. In addition, an estimated 111 million were running established businesses.

This not only shows the impact of women entrepreneurs across the globe, but highlights their contributions to the growth and well-being of their societies.

Women entrepreneurs provide incomes for their families, employment for their communities, and products and services that bring new value to the world around them.

Ladies, our time is NOW.

Scalability is the ability of your startup to grow.

A scalable business can adapt to a larger workload without compromising performance or losing revenue.

Growing an unscalable business is like using a bicycle pump to fill up air in a tractor tyre.


Step #1: Think Big; Act Bold

This does not mean daydreaming. But if you have a 5 million shillings business, why can’t it be a 50 million shillings company? This is thinking big.

There is no value to just sit there and ‘think’ about it. You have to take bold action. Surround yourself with the right team, mentors and connections; build strategies to reach your ‘big thoughts’, then pull the trigger.

The right team is important in this dream. When we start, we employ people readily available, sometimes relatives as well. Hire the right people and only the right people. Check on multifaceted people who can do what a machine or software cannot do and listen to their ideas.

Step #2:  Get the basics down.

Before you even worry about scaling your startup, make sure your fundamentals are fool proof to prevent premature scaling.


Compliance is simply making sure you follow the rules.  The concept of compliance is to make sure that corporations act responsibly.

Compliance can be broken down into two areas:

Regulatory compliance, which is making sure that any business or action conducted by a company is within the country’s legal parameters. These would be bodies like KRA, KEBS and many others.
The second is Internal Compliance, this is ensuring that your company operates according to its own created culture. This is something as simple as, how do you operate when no one is watching?

So why is this important in a business?

  • Avoidance of Legal Complications.
  • Building a Positive Reputation with your clients.
  • Higher Productivity in the Company.


  • Make sure your core product line reaches “market fit”. You can make gradual improvements based on user feedback and data.
  • Find out your largest core users and interact with them continuously.

Step #3: Work On Your Business, Not In It

Most struggling entrepreneurs I know fail in this one area more than others: they’re focused on the wrong things

Get clarity on what core activities you need to be focused on as the leader and visionary, and then protect your boundaries around these actions.

Your business is not about you. In order to be scalable, it should function without you. In other words, my people know that the factory better be burning down for anyone to interrupt my actions of working on my business.

Shift responsibility off your shoulder by taking deliberate absence so as to make your people to be independent. You may come back humbled when you realize they even do better in your absence.

Step #4: Know your stuff

You need to know your stuff. You need to be exceptional in your area of core competency and show expertise at what you do and the value you bring to your customers. Follow the trends and benchmark with your peers in your industry.

You need to specialize and have an area of expertise. When asked what you do best, your answer can’t be “everything.” No one knows what that means. To develop a specialty, the best place to start is with what you know.

Know yourself – Know your limits

Before manufacturing I was a telecommunication engineer for 15 years. As a business owner, I realized I lacked background training in business management. I enrolled at Strathmore Business School for the owner Management Program to acquire the skills. Learning never stops, it is a continuous process.

Step #5: Evaluate Financing Options for Expansion

How do you go from a 5 million shillings business to a 50 million shillings company? You’re going to need some capital and it’s probably not coming as a donation.

There are very few big businesses that are self-funded. Whether you want to expand your employee base, buy a new machine or develop a new product, one of the key elements in taking a company to the next level is knowing the kind of capital you need to support that growth.

So what do you do? Get a high-level finance person by your side. This person will  open up your eyes to the possibilities of growth and expansion from an informed perspective.

Expansion comes in many ways:

JOINT VENTURE is a common way of combining resources and expertise of two otherwise unrelated companies. Coming together with another business affords each party access to the resources of the other participating company without having to spend excessive amounts of capital to obtain it.

For example, Company A may own the facilities and manufacturing production technology that Company B needs to create and ultimately distribute a new product.

A strategic ACQUISITION can be one of the most important means of growth for your business. Acquiring an existing business can often overcome formerly challenging market entry barriers while reducing risks of competitive reactions.

Step #6: Build A Public Profile

TABITHA KARANJA or KEROCHE…..which has the bigger imprint on your brain?

Even if your answer is Keroche, it’s only by a narrow margin that you did not think of Tabitha Karanja. Tabitha has mastered the art of creating a commendable public profile as a woman in manufacturing.

We no longer live in a





Because you’re the leader of your company, other people (customers, investors, advisors, strategic partners) want to know you.

Let these people not visit your business websites and not find even the basic information on the founder/leader of the business.

We live in a world that requires us to be aware of how we are presenting ourselves to others.

When you do an ONLINE SEARCH for someone (or yourself) the information you find is the backbone of a personal brand. You can either take charge in shaping your image and identity, or you can let your brand be decided by others.

A personal brand is like a garden. Once you lay the groundwork and plant the seeds, you’ll be in a great position to eventually reap the benefits.

It is therefore a daily journey for me to build MARY NGECHU.


While companies operating in cottage industries may remain small, they still have to compete with other firms, whether other cottage industries or larger-scale companies.

This requires them to employ new technologies that will improve efficiency and productivity. They will also have to compete for sources of labor, which can be especially difficult as a country becomes more developed and wages rise.

It is tough but it is doable.

Some photos from the event:


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