As the Covid-19 decimated lives and laid livelihoods to waste in its wake, some young entrepreneurs braced the storm and had business breakthroughs, and started flourishing businesses.
Before the pandemic, as a requirement for his Cambridge high school course in global perspectives, Johnson Runuya, landed a three-week internship at a bakery. His classmates chose so-called trendy jobs companies like Rwandair and Akagera Aviation.
Runuya gained basic skills in baking and started baking as a hobby for his family. Then when the pandemic appeared to settle in for the long haul, he started using family groceries as ingredients at home, to the chagrin of his parents who threatened to dent his pocket money to pay for them.
Like all 20-year olds, Runuya enjoyed going out with friends to concerts, but remained dependent on his parents.
He decided to bake cakes for sale to finance his ‘lifestyle’ and gain a modicum of financial independence. It was to prove a masterstroke that would grow into a real business.
As Rwandans followed the rest of the world into lockdown mode, Runuya patronised YouTube to refine his baking skills and with school being out, he concentrated on baking all sorts of cakes.
He opened an Instagram account to market his mouth-watering treats and in no time, orders rang his phone constantly and occupied all his waking hours. He started baking and delivering birthday cakes, cupcakes, fruitcakes embossed with strawberries and other fruits and desserts to people’s doorsteps using a motorcycle delivery service.
His clientele grew during the pandemic, and he ventured into wedding cakes.
He is now better known as Johnson The Baker on social media where he is reputed as the go-to person for quick and delicious cakes.
As business flourished, Johnson transformed the guest room at home into a production centre and kitchen complete with a college intern from the department of culinary arts whom he trained.
“We have no guest room at home now. It is my office space,” Runuya says.
He has bought two ovens and is eyeing a bigger one to serve the growing demand. He now bake at least 20 two-kilo cakes a day, and they all sell out.
Johnson The Baker’s speciality is the soft and less sugary, and he is starting to make cakes that are completely sugar-free, using more natural fruits to fulfil customer demand.
Story is told of how Isaac Newton's brilliant take-home epidemic exam and the apple tree outside their homestead gifted the world his theories on calculus, optics and the laws of motion and gravity in the thick of the bubonic 'Great Plague' of 1665–6; the worst outbreak of plague in England. The 2020 pandemic saw many young people find creative ways to fend for themselves.
Like Johnson (Runuya) The Baker, Richard Rusa and his housemates built a successful fast food delivery venture during the lockdown, and now Ballistic Burgers serves more than 3,000 customers a month, riding on the WhatsApp.
For Marc Gwamaka, Covid struck when his venture was just a year old, making garments for corporates but like many other businesses too, his new company faced difficulties.
His fortunes, however, turned the corner for the better when he became licensed to make masks.
“I hired up to 100 workers making 7,500 masks a day, ” said Gwamaka, chief executive of Aki Garments.
Even as the market opened up and more mask makers were licensed into the fray, Aki Garments company already had a firm foothold in the market and started innovating by making face masks for the high-end clientele, personalised masks and even fun ones adorned with cartoon characters for children, which kept them in the game.