Meet Bernhard, the entrepreneur with a micro-business empire

Two years ago, Bernhard was running a small photocopying and computer skills training business out of his rented house. Today he has a studio in a home he owns, employs two family members in his sweet potato farming business and part-owns a community billiards room that funds a profitable pig farm. And he’s not stopping there.

An uncertain future

Young people in Kenya face many problems. Quality education is rare and expensive. Disease, including HIV, is highly prevalent, and cultural stigma often prevents you from seeking help. And even if you graduate with your health intact, Kenya’s youth bulge means competition for entry-level jobs is fierce beyond imagination, and youth unemployment rates are some of the highest in the world.

Based in rural Embu County, Bernhard is one of the many young people who refuses to let adversity stop him. Ambitious, hardworking and full of entrepreneurial spirit, he established a small photocopying business in 2014 and taught basic computer skills on the side. He joined Hand in Hand a year later, seeing an opportunity to grow his business, and is now a part of a Self-Help Group made up of similarly eager young people.

Embu, Kenya

Building an empire

With their training complete, the group devised a plan that would generate money quickly. Pooling their savings, they bought a pool table and rented a room for it in the local shopping centre. It now provides a total profit of KES 10,000 (US $100) a month – and also keeps teenagers out of trouble. “When they are gathered there together, they concentrate on one thing. So it’s difficult for them to start thinking about crimes,” says Bernhard.

The impressive income generated by the community pool table has allowed Bernhard his group to invest in a bigger project: a farm with 10 pigs, which they believe will yield a long-lasting and sustainable income.

‘I decided to be unique’

Yellow sweet potatoes

Bernhard has also used his training to improve his own business, saving up the coins he earns from photocopying. Eager to invest, he researched which crops were most profitable and eventually bought a crop of yellow sweet potato vines, employing his mother and sister to help plant them.

Despite their popularity, sweet potatoes are not commonly grown in the area. “Here people don’t value sweet potatoes very much because they think it’s an indigenous plant, so they see it as a common thing. They think they are planted by old people, rather than farmers outside Embu County,” he says. “I decided to be unique.” Bernhard capitalised on a gap in the market, and is now reaping the rewards of his ingenuity.

“Before Hand in Hand – let me be frank – I was not very successful,” he continues. “After selling my sweet potatoes, I have managed to buy a picture printer that costs 24,000 KES (US $240), and I introduced a studio inside my room.”

Between his sweet potatoes and the income generated by his technology business, he has been able to build his own home and provide for himself and his new wife.

And his next big purchase? “A sofa set for the house.”

Bernhard’s results

Owns or part-owns 4 businesses

Employs 2 family members

Bought house