The power of connections: The Ombra Investments story
In 2014, Moses Waithaka and his wife Susan, made the bold decision of act on an idea that had been bubbling under for some time. They decided to a company that has since grown in leaps and bounds. “Ombra Investment Company Limited was incorporated in September 2014 by my wife and I,” Moses says.
The company works with telecommunication services providers and focuses on the excavation, installation and supply of fibre optics cables and related products. “We currently also offer other products ranging from fibre reinforced manhole chambers, fibre manhole covers, fibre reinforced portable toilets, fibre reinforced power poles and other fibre optic installation materials,” he says.
But the journey, Waithaka says, has not been easy. Like many other start-ups, they initially struggled to access finance needed to service orders and to grow their business. He says in their third year of business, the company got one of its largest orders, but did not have the kind of financial muscle needed to undertake the project.
“We were cash strained and orders were coming in fast,” Waithaka says. “We were in the middle of building our brand yet we had to services companies such Safaricom, MTN and Huawei. We couldn’t let them down,” he recalls.
He says that most banks they approached turned them down. In September of 2016, the Kenyan government capped interest rates chargeable by banks at 14%. As a result, many banks went into 2017 with reduced loan portfolios, a decision that hit small businesses and individual borrowers the hardest.
“Back then, most of the banks were not willing to fund small and medium sized organisations. Even with confirmed orders from clients, they did not give us a chance,” Waithaka says.
Without the much-needed capital injection, it looked like Ombra would suffer the tragic fate that befalls many SMEs who close shop before their first anniversary. But a chance conversation with a friend led to a decision that changed Ombra’s fortunes.
“We learnt about Business Partners International (BPI) through a friend who was already working with them,” Waithaka says. By October of that year, BPI approved an initial deal of KES14 million, money which Ombra received the following month. “With the capital injection, we purchased stock which we urgently needed to serve our clients,” Waithaka says.
The stock included manhole covers and manhole chambers, which was shipped from China, and which was delivered to Ombra’s warehouse in March 2018. “We distributed and installed these manholes to the various clients immediately since more than 60% of the items had been pre-ordered,” he says.
This marked the beginning of a four-year friendship that has seen Ombra Investments access multiple funding requests for purchase orders with ease, and which has seen them improve their service delivery to their large clients.
Ombra also further qualified for a KES500,000 technical assistance facility from BPI, money which they used to acquire a new financial management system to help the company improve on book keeping, process orders faster, and help manage the company’s inventory.
Ombra says thanks to the partnership with BPI, they can continue growing the company and undertaking even bigger projects.
“In five years, we hope to have expanded to between five and 10 countries in Africa,” he says, adding that, “We are grateful that BPI is willing to walk this continental journey with us.”
“We have five employees and we will increase the number as the business grows,” Waithaka says.