Six years ago, Rwandan science teacher Cephas Nshimyumuremyi showed his students how to test a plant and know the capacity of that plant to kill bacteria. The lesson sparked the launch of his company Uburanga Products, which makes herbal jelly and soap from local medicinal plants. Famous in Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda, Zimbabwe and DR Congo, the entrepreneur plans export to the UK and South Africa.
Cephas Nshimyumuremyi’s ideas for natural cosmetics with healing properties came straight from the class room. After a lot of experimenting – and an investment about 10 US dollars – Cephas’ first home developed products found its way to local customers easily. The price makes the locally produced products affordable: one bar of soap costs 50 cents and a large bottle of lotion goes for $1.
“The brand name ‘Uburanga’ stands for beauty. Cephas, founders and CEO of today’s Uburanga Products, employing 15 young people: “The products are made from plants that can protect your beauty and keep it constant until death. We make sure that the products we manufacture are intended in particular for Africa and that they are natural. Other products containing chemicals predisposed to destroy the skin – ours are pure and natural.”
Natural in Uburanga’s definition means that it is made from herbs and plants that are dried, crushed and mixed with various substances. It is how Cephas developed all of his products. “Our seven product lines are Uburanga Herbal Soap, Herbal Jelly, Glycerin, Vaseline, Aloe Vera Shampoo, Liquid Soap and Castor Oil from castor bean. We will soon launch another line, with Uburanga Aloe Vera Lotion, Hand and Face Liquid Soap, Hair Conditioner, Hair Gel, Baby Jelly and Pure Aloe Gel.”
The products have become popular among locals with acne and other skin problems – the natural ingredients without chemical additives work wonders. Cephas products have a large fan base. In Rwanda alone 500 wholesalers distribute to Rwanda's stores. "We even deliver by our own Uburanga distribution car."
The organic raw materials - such as medicinal plants - are sourced from local farmers as well as from Cephas' own aloe vera plantation. "We have more than 3 hectares to work with. Quite enough to serve our purpose. It helps us to keep our products affordable to local buyers." Cephas adds that most products have small-sized varieties that even the humblest of paychecks can afford, as well as larger-sized packages.”
How to start a business
Cephas is no longer a full-time science teacher in Rwanda, as his business now requires all of his energy. "Now I am teaching people in Rwanda how to start a small business. For example, how I started my own enterprise making my first natural soap. My life has changed a lot since I produced my first product."
Business is going well, although Cephas would wish it would go faster. "There are lots of things to learn on the way and hurdles to overcome. Like all small startups, getting funded used to be the biggest challenge. Now that we have scaled up somewhat, I can get small loans from the bank to buy machines."
Also, the modern age requires online presence. Although the Uburanga story was well-known in and outside Rwanda, the company was hard to find. It was due to the perseverance of Jean Pierre Karabaranga, Rwanda's Ambassador in The Netherlands, that Club Africa was able to find Cephas. "We are currently in the process of redesigning our website", Cephas says apologetically. "The site is to feature all of our products and specifications, photos and videos."
Next step? "We are happy to say that we export to countries like DR of Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Zimbabwe. We are in the process of negotiating a distribution deal with a business in the UK. I have also received a request for a similar deal from South Africa."