In Cameroon, small- and medium-sized enterprises can struggle to secure investment to help their businesses and communities develop. We spoke to Femshang Muanze Charles, 2020 Commonwealth Scholar studying MSc Entrepreneurship Financing at Henley Business School, University of Reading, about how he hopes to overcome these barriers and what inspired him to help entrepreneurs in Cameroon.
From a young age I was fascinated by entrepreneurship, having seen my mother and father undertake different business ventures to support me and my siblings growing up. My mother was a serial entrepreneur and always looked for business opportunities, including a venture to produce uniforms for the school I attended.
Some of these businesses were successful, others less so but whatever the business opportunity was, my parents were tenacious in trying to make it work. Despite their efforts though, my parents often struggled to secure investment in the production and marketing side of their businesses. From this experience I realised that with just a small amount of investment, these entrepreneurial ventures could have been highly successful and would have had wider benefits for the whole community.
In my career as an Economics teacher in Cameroon and Project Coordinator for the SME4Afrika initiative, I have worked with many small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and again have seen that the uniqueness of their problem is a lack of access to suitable finance, just as I had witnessed with my parents’ businesses.
Although capital is available to SMEs, investors can be reluctant to fund these businesses if they do not appear transparent, and investors can require businesses to present significant collateral in order for a loan to be granted. At the same time, while entrepreneurs and business owners understand their own businesses very well, they may not have the technical knowledge or business language to produce rigorous analyses which financial backers look for to guarantee a business investment.
This gap between the needs of SMEs and investors motivated me to undertake my Commonwealth Scholarship and gain the knowledge to help people in my community secure finance and reap the benefits of their hard work. Since starting my course in September, my knowledge base has increased rapidly, and I feel confident in different areas of entrepreneurship financing, from knowing how to appraise a business to differentiating between sources of finance.
At Henley Business School (part of the University of Reading), I have encountered a culturally diverse group of students, which has opened my mind to many different possibilities for business ideas and solutions. Whether it is identifying good investments for SMEs, informing NGOs who are looking to support local communities, or advising state-bodies on suitable business opportunities, my Scholarship work will enable me to support entrepreneurs in gaining investment and help improve communities across Cameroon.
Although it has been my ambition to study Entrepreneurship Financing as a Commonwealth Scholar for the past few years, my dream to go the University of Reading began much earlier when my uncle first showed me a university prospectus as a child. At that time, it had seemed impossible to imagine going to such a university, so my message to aspiring Commonwealth Scholars is no matter how tough or distant your dream may be, you just need to be resilient and never give up. Tell your story sincerely and it shall be heard.