Fridah Oyaro: From the Small Seed of Opportunity, a Business and Role Model Blooms

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Fridah Oyaro’s interest in design began as a young child when she and her brothers would have early morning drawing competitions to see who would be excused from washing the dishes that day. Her brothers cleaned a lot of dishes and today, the 22-year-old Oyaro is the founder of a small but growing graphic design outfit with big visions.

“My first dream after graduation was to use the entrepreneurial skills I learned to start my own company so that I could employ other Kenyans. Well I did it, and although my business is less than a year old and we’re still figuring everything out things, I know one day we will be a big reputable design agency with at least 50 employees,” the optimistic young business owner says confidently.

Raised in Ruai, a small town in the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, Oyaro is the second born in her family. She often looked after her younger siblings and even took almost a year off school at one point to care for them in her mother’s absence; she stayed on track academically by reading and doing school work with her older brother.

The young entrepreneur first encountered a computer and the internet when she was 16, and it was an eye-opening experience, but one she never got to repeat as her high school had few computers. After graduation, she was at a loss for what to do as she couldn’t afford to go to university and her options were limited. But a friend mentioned a program she thought would suit the then 18-year-old Oyaro. That was AkiraChix – an NGO that runs technical training for young women from humble social and economic backgrounds – and Oyaro hasn’t looked back since.

“I harassed them regularly until they agreed to let me join,” she laughs. “It was a one-year course on computer literacy, graphic and web design, and entrepreneurship. A little intimidating considering I barely knew much about computers, but I was ready to start from the bottom,” Oyaro says earnestly.

IMG_1698And while she may have started at the bottom, she ended at the top, graduating first in her class and being awarded her very first laptop and a smart phone as a result.

“I learned a lot at AkiraChix but not enough to get hired as a professional graphic designer. Even after I finished the training, I went back to their offices to use the internet and network. I started teaching myself how to properly use the design software through tutorials and got inspiration online from what other designers were doing. After a lot of research, I realized that I could also do illustrations since drawing has always been part of me. Eventually, I did online short courses to upgrade my skills.”

In a smart move, the determined go-getter decided to join the iHub tech community – an innovation space in Nairobi – and take advantage of being able to network with many designers who had made it in the industry. She did a lot of pro-bono work to grow her skills and in the process, found two mentors: a graphic designer and an illustrator.

“I know people are watching me. Many support me but some do not and that’s okay. I believe in myself and the example I’m setting for others, especially girls. Being an entrepreneur is not easy but if you are disciplined and work hard, it’s never too young to start.”

She started to pick up work as a freelancer, but when she was turned down for full-time position and found it difficult to get government contracts as an individual, Oyaro went for it and set up her own company. Today Bigdot Studios has three employees and specializes in branding, print and advertising design.

“I knew what I wanted to specialize in. I had my laptop and the internet and about Ksh 20,000 ($200), which I used to register the company. And that was enough to start. I told myself I had nothing to lose. Everything I earn, I reinvest in the business. I’m proud of myself. I’ve come far and achieved some milestones despite all the challenges.”

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Some of those challenges include being a woman in the Kenyan tech scene and such a young business owner.

“People sometimes don’t take me seriously because I’m young. This is compounded by IMG_1794the fact that I’m woman. But the attitude towards female entrepreneurs is changing. There are a lot of women successfully running their own businesses. In the tech sector, there is still a strong mentality that it’s a man’s field. But when I look at women like Judith Owigar (co-founder of AkiraChix), it inspires me because I believe I can be like her.”

And while Oyaro looks to women like Owigar as role models, she’s very well aware of her own impact on other young people.

“I know people are watching me. Many support me but some do not and that’s okay. I believe in myself and the example I’m setting for others, especially girls. Being an entrepreneur is not easy but if you are disciplined and work hard, it’s never too young to start.”

Fridah Oyaro’s startup tips:
  • Be professional and aim to be the best at what you do.
  • Get inspiration online. There is no new idea, someone somewhere has done it.
  • Think global, not local. There are amazing things happening in other countries; be open minded.
  • Success comes through hard work and perseverance.
  • Don’t be afraid to fail and if you do, it’s not the end. Just keep trying until you get it right.

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