Nelly Omondi: Unemployment Unleashes Entrepreneurial Passion

nelly_omondiNelly Omondi was born and raised in a small town called Maseno in rural western Kenya. When she graduated from high school she went straight to look for a job because she did not meet the minimum entry requirement for joining a state university at the time.  She also didn’t have the funds necessary to pay for it. So she looked for a teaching job, a position perhaps as an assistant that she could take while trying to find a way to pursue higher education.

She found such a position at a private primary school, and while working there she enrolled in a short course in early childhood education.  But two years later, she lost her job when her she became pregnant with her first child.  Her employer thought it would be difficult to keep her on the payroll during maternity leave.

While unemployed, she started making cosmetics, disinfectants, and antiseptics from home.  This might sound like a leap but her husband, who was trained as a chemist, gave her an interest in the field. Omondi also didn’t have a choice. Her husband didn’t have a stable income and she had to find a way to help support her family immediately.

“I didn’t carry out any market research to enter the field and I did not plan any entry, but just went into it immediately,” says Omondi. “I was driven by the demand I saw around me. My friends and neighbors were amazed that these products could indeed be manufactured in their neighborhood by someone they actually knew.”

Losing her job also unleashed in Omondi a hidden passion to be an entrepreneur. She was excited by the opportunity to start over. Initially, she went door to door to sell her products and marketed them exclusively to friends and family.  She raised capital for the start-up costs from her family’s savings and a loan from a saving group she belonged to locally.

“Since I started the business as a pastime while I was unemployed, I didn’t make a huge initial capital investment, so I had little fear of losing substantial savings or borrowings.  That helped keep the anxiety in check.”

Back in 2004 when Omondi, then 29, started Impact Chemicals Limited, she had three sons under the age of seven. So while her family was 10KW Logo Color_Newsupportive they were also apprehensive and hoped she was making the right decision. But a big change in confidence came when Omondi was accepted into the Goldman Sachs Lea. She trained at the United States International University in Kenya and 10,000 Women helped her set goals and get her accounts in order, while also giving her the confidence and courage to expand her business beyond its local boundary.

With a business plan and a network, Impact Chemicals Limited expanded to hire 17 new employees, open a sister company, manufacture products for the pharmaceutical industry, and began to export to other East African countries.

“When I started ten years ago, I was the business owner, production personnel, saleslady, and accountant all in one.  Today, I am the Chief Executive Officer of my business and have built a team to help with these tasks. I had to sacrifice my time and finances to make this happen, but from this my business has grown beyond my imagination.”

Omondi’s initial annual turnover of USD $4,000 has grown to an incredible $672,000. And best of all, she was able to hire her husband as Technical Director in charge of production, engineering, and quality assurance.

“But for me, the biggest surprise that I have had is the unbelievable recognition of my efforts and achievements as a mentor for women aspiring to enter into business.”

As if building a multinational business isn’t enough, Omondi recently launched The Impact Foundation to mentor and support other women in business.

“Starting a foundation was important to me because during my early life in the countryside, I had seen women and children go without food and vulnerable children drop out of school either as a result of being orphaned or mere poverty.  By covering school fees for students in need and advising women to start their own income generating activities, I wanted to give back to my community in a manner that would address my childhood experiences.”

Her business has grown far beyond all her initial expectations. “I expected success in that I could contribute towards feeding my family and paying school fees for my children, but I did not see myself offering employment to tens of men and women, running two rapidly growing companies and being able to turn around my own situation even to the extent of empowering others through a foundation.  Being honored and selected to join the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women program are things I never thought I would ever achieve by running a business.”

Tips from Nelly Omondi
  • Any woman looking to start a business has made the right decision and should move on and get started.
  • Women should obtain business and management knowledge through training. It will help them better manage and grow their businesses.
  • Women should network with other women in business to get new ideas and have access to opportunities that may arise.