Manuela Pacutho is the founder of The Cradle, a 24hr infant care centre. She was also among the 25 young African leaders to attend this year’s Mandela Washington Fellowship.
The Mandela Washington Fellowship is a program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. The program kicked off in 2014 and has since then been taking on more and more young African leaders.
In a conversation with Manuela Pacutho, we were able to delve into the details of The Cradle, what she learned from the fellowship and how she plans on using it to improve her business, The Cradle.
Mandela Washington Fellowship…
When asked about how the program went in general, she says “it opened my eyes to what is happening in Africa and Uganda, to be more specific”. This was in respect to the child care industry.
“Before leaving, I wanted to find out why the children in Uganda are different from those in America in terms of thinking,” she added.
Secondly Manuela wanted to find out how to run the kind of business like The Cradle, more efficiently because no one else has it in Uganda. Basically, infant care centers are for children under the age of three – before they can go to school. Which is different from what Day care centres do.
Between Inspire Africa and Mandela Washington Fellowship
Manuela was one of the participants in the Inspire Africa competition. A competition that gave birth to the likes of Dr. Davis Musinguzi. To her, participation in Inspire Africa was, as she put it, “an experiential venture”. Though she was also anticipating seed capital from the Inspire Africa.
Immediately after Inspire Africa, she was able to launch Little steps which later morphed into The Cradle. The name change was due to the fact that most people thought it was a kindergarten. She believes the new name, reflects the line of business.
One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face is lack of an actual-addressable market out of the usually perceived huge market This was a topic of interest as I wanted to find out if child care services have a significant addressable market.
“You know the average age in Uganda is 15.5 years old and the statistics also show that around 80% of the population is under the age of 30 years,” she points out. She further continues that, “over 70% are below the age of 15 years”.
To her, “in 10 years, the number that’ll be having children will be over triple the current” At this point, she pauses a question, “what’s going to happen to those children?”
To further ensure I understood the point, she launched into a quick explanation.
“You find that the girls who have been working as house girls in our homes are now in Universal Primary Education or Universal Secondary Education,” Manuela.
She continues to say that “there’ll not be any maids anymore. The ones that you’ll get are those that couldn’t even afford to go to Universal Education.”
Reception of the idea…
The reception hasn’t been easy, given that most people are used to the kindergarten concept. She says “only a few parents understand the value of ensuring their child under the age of 3 is brought up the right way”.
“Most of the parents with us understand the impact of a child caregiver when they are under the age of three. They actually talk to us on how we can improve our services,” Manuela adds.
However, she continues to say that the situation is because we haven’t reached a stage where this is an option. In her opinion, most parents that should be considered the cradle currently have other ready options like a housemaid or a relative from the village.
“It is those parents who have understood the impact of what it means to have the right care for your child in the first three years of their life that have so far welcomed the idea,” she added.
Partnerships and Marketing Strategies…
One of the best ways for a startup on a lean budget to acquire customers is low-budget awareness campaigns and partnerships with key players in similar areas of interest.
Currently, they are focusing on training and workshops. Actually, they have scheduled their very first workshop on the 21st of October at Kampala Parents School. Here, they expect Churches, Schools, Kindergartens, Parents, and anyone in contact with children under three years.
When it comes to marketing, they mainly rely on word of mouth as well as social media.
“We are yet to get into traditional marketing means because we are still a small business, so we can’t afford it,” Manuela says. She also adds that they’re ensuring they take part in most exhibitions involving children
Due to a lack of mentors in most of the African startup ecosystems, accelerator and fellowship programs have become the only oasis.
In case you have no idea of accelerator programs, from this Harvard Business Review, they support early-stage, growth-driven companies through education, mentorship, and financing.
Mandela Washington Fellowship was her first program. Though not an accelerator, it offered priceless leadership mentor-ship.
But, Manuela says, “I would love to [attend an accelerator program] because our education system doesn’t allow us to go through what it provides.”
“By the time you come into creating a business, it is your first time and you’re making lots of mistakes. If someone can help, I would find it easier because it would be a wonderful opportunity to make sure that my business can survive,” she added.
However, she wouldn’t advise one to become a prostitute of attending programs.
“One should only attend an accelerator program if it will help achieve a specific,” she advises.
“Otherwise,” she questions, “[if all you’re doing is attend the programs], then when are you implementing whatever you learn?”.
Lastly, we talked about an issue that most if not all youths starting a business rank high on the list of hurdles – Capital.
So far, Manuela has used personal savings and a grant of $5,000 from Amos Wekesa. She expected a grant of $5,000 from her participation in Inspire Africa, but it has never got to her.
An occurrence she describes as “sad”. She continues to say, “you’d imagine that after [one] going through Inspire Africa, where they’re looking for seed capital, and the money is never given to them even when it has been sent to the grant supervisors – it is sad”.
When asked if she’s currently looking for external investment, she said “yes” and the amount is in the region of USD 1,000,000.
“Currently, I am okay with either a grant or Venture Capital. Because I have worked out a way that I can be able to work with either. My only target is to open into organizations and more child care centers around the country,” she said.