Are engineers meant to be entrepreneurs? There are still very few female entrepreneurs, with the numbers more dismal for STEM! Most studies blame this on women shying away from entrepreneurial opportunities. Our interview with two tech-preneurs, Eng. Mercy Manyuchi and Eng. Joy Makumbe take us through their journey, successes and challenges and why you should be a tech-preneur.
Eng. Mercy Manyuchi
Eng. Mercy Manyuchi is a chemical engineer, who currently works as a lecturer and an environmental consultant at the Harare Institute of Technology. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and tech startups, founding the SustainableTech in 2013, to promote green solutions and environmental awareness. Dr Manyuchi is currently working on the production of bio-coal from charcoal ashes as an alternative to use of firewood.
How did you get into entrepreneurship and what is your current project?
Growing up, I always wanted to make a difference by creating something that would positively impact the lives of people. This is, basically, what drives me. I am currently working on two projects: The first one is an eco cook stove called the Marasha cook stove, produced from scrap metal. The idea combines the use of waste metal with the need to reduce dependence on firewood through conservation of energy. The stove is currently on sale in Harare. I am currently focusing efforts in increasing availability of the stove through promotion and marketing. My second project is on developing a soaps and detergents brand called ‘Vaima’. This is inspired by the fact that women need the right products to look and feel fabulous.
What lessons have you learnt as an entrepreneur?
One hard lesson for me was taking for granted that the world celebrates your success. Success tends to bring enemies along with friends as well as scrutiny of your work and decisions. This experience has taught me that my work always has to be above board. Above all, I have learnt that falling makes us rise and be better.
Are there certain expectations of female entrepreneurs?
Given that this is a man’s world, women have to work harder than usual in order to excel in this area. However, the beauty is that God gave women the ability to revive and rise in any situation.
“When you fall, rise up and be better.”
– Eng. Mercy Manyuchi –
What can be done to encourage women in entrepreneurship?
I believe it is important to have basic business training for women. Then, having tech hubs for women would be a way for nurturing their innovative talent. Though there are tech-hubs in Zimbabwe, there is no program available targeting women.
Are you currently mentoring women to join you in entrepreneurship?
I am involved mentoring young women on a day to day basis. As an educator, I always encourage women to start their own enterprises. I am also a member of a Ministry of Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment task-force involved in encouraging the youth to industrialize Zimbabwe using technology. In addition to that, I am a member of Zimbabwe Women in Engineering, where I play two roles. First, I work in the entrepreneurship arm. I am also a representative for Zimbabwe Women in Engineering in the World Federation of Engineering Organization Committee, where I interact with women engineers from all over the world and tap into ideas that we can apply to promote women engineers in Zimbabwe.
Eng. Joy Makumbe
Eng. Joy Makumbe is a professional Civil Engineer and an entrepreneur. She has 16 years’ work experience in water and wastewater infrastructure design and management of its facilities. She has gained consulting experience in design working both in the private sector and for government in Zimbabwe. She is currently the Assistant Resident Engineer for Water and Wastewater World Bank funded Project for Bushenyi Town in Uganda.
Why did you consider entrepreneurship and what have activities have you been engaged in?
I enjoy being able to bring an idea to life that would make lives better, especially those of women, in their communities. I founded Majorlic Construction Company in 2004, involved in laying of water and sanitation pipe infrastructure in new developments. My vision is to design and construct green buildings that would improve the country’s use of green technology like solar power for lighting and heating which would be different from the current housing construction and supervision projects. I worked in a solar company, SunPower, for one month in San Francisco, USA in 2015, in order to gain experience in solar sizing and use in domestic and industrial setups. In addition to this, I am also conducting project supervision for water and sanitation infrastructure construction. The projects are providing water and sanitation facilities to communities that have had erratic water supply or none at all, averting diseases like cholera and malaria.
What challenges do you experience as a female entrepreneur?
Having to prove myself first before I get a job. Unfortunately, the fora to prove one’s self is not usually there, so you end up loosing on some contracts. I have learnt that whatever contract or job I get is a marketing opportunity for my future projects and should sell the quality I represent. I always say, “the best mistake you can ever make is giving me an opportunity to prove myself“. Another thing is that engineering is already considered a man’s play field. It takes a woman extra effort to be taken seriously. Any funders would consider a man first than a woman.
“The best mistake you can ever make is to give me an opportunity to prove myself!”
-Eng. Joy Makumbe-
What advice would you give to women in technology, wanting to be entrepreneurs and what more can be done to increase the numbers of female entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneurship is very fulfilling. I would advise that whatever job or contract you do, always make sure it is to the standard you represent, because you never know who could be watching. I believe that if there is more seed funding for women, this would encourage them to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. I also believe that there is need for training and mentorship for women so they are better equipped.
What mentorship programs are you engaged in?
In 2014, I started the Joy Makumbe Trust. Through my professional journey, there have been very few women in the sectors of Engineering and Science, which prompted me to ask where they all were. I realized that, from an early age, girls do not take science subjects at school, meaning they would not be eligible to study science later on at University. The girls lacked vital information earlier on in their academic lives of what to study to and what they could become. Those that had any information at all had been told that engineering and science was for boys and that girls were not sharp enough to handle scientific subjects. Through the Joy Makumbe Trust, I am able to provide career guidance in schools to children on subject choice, in line with their chosen careers. The trust also provides these girls with opportunities for studying in Engineering and Science disciplines, both locally and abroad. Capacity building and opportunities for furthering their studies is provided through support from women already working in these fields. My vision is to see more women in Africa take up positions of impact and influence in the Engineering and Science fields.