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In 2007, Heshan de Silva dropped out of school and as things got worse for him in the US, he joined his parents back in Kenya to get his life back together.
Forging ahead regardless of the situation
De Silva strives to motivate and encourage young people. His one mission is to change the perception that a university degree is essential to success.
“If you don’t have a degree, if you don’t have even a high school diploma, you will succeed if you plug a need,” he says. “You don’t require a piece of paper to be certified to do business.
“I think education enables you to open your mind to a lot of possibilities, but at the end of the day you are narrowed to what you have studied and you lock out everything that is going on around you. The counter to that is people like me are not narrowed to anything; we see opportunity everywhere.”
Aged only 18 at the time, his parents gave him 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (US$116), which he used to start a new business of selling travel insurance to the poor. Going for as little as KSh5 – less than five US cents – it was bundled with long-distance bus tickets and could be bought via mobile phone. By the end of the year he had made KSh90-million, over a million US dollars.
“If you work hard and don’t set limits for yourself you can get there,” he says. “I am testament to that.”
It’s all about Ideas
After earning his first million, De Silva moved on to financing ingenious ideas. His DSGVenCap has so far invested in 22,000 people and has created 17,000 businesses. “This is the ideas sector, where you can convert ideas into viable companies.”
Today one of the youngest venture capitalists in Africa, De Silva chooses the projects carefully, and has grown the De Silva Group into one of the region’s most enterprising entities. It has holdings in commodities, technology, renewable energy, insurance, robotics, advertising, hospitality, fashion, rural road construction, hardware and agribusiness, and works with major East African corporations such as Equity Bank, Housing Finance Corp, Scanad, and East African Breweries Limited.
DSGVenCap invests an average of $10,000 to $15,000 in each idea, and helps the entrepreneurs it funds to execute their ideas. So far, company and its beneficiaries have created jobs for some 70,000 people.
“When we started this we wanted to impact people on a large scale,” De Silva says. “The mandate of our group is to reduce poverty from 60% to 40% in this country within five years.”
De Silva’s company DSGVenCap is based in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and largest city, with subsidiary offices in Mombasa. (Image: Wikimedia Commons)
De Silva is galvanised by the change in the lives of the entrepreneurs he funds. Once struggling to put food on the table, these individuals can now afford to dine in the finest restaurants.
He is also inspired by how his New York partners work. “They look at numbers as just that. They have no emotions tied to money. Having that attitude is brilliant when you are running a business.”
Spending money irresponsibly is something De Silva knows all about. “When I started making a decent amount of money, there was no limit to how much I just wanted to throw at stuff. It was very irresponsible. It went full circle and I decided to live a simple life. I don’t need anything fancy. I believe very much in stewardship.”
Advice to upcoming entrepreneurs
De Silva’s message to Africa’s young aspiring entrepreneurs is to identify an actual need. “Don’t wait for financing. Plug in with what you have and address that need. Build a business and the money will follow,” he says.
“The youth make a mistake when they view money as the main goal of doing business. Money should never be the goal when you are in business. It should be about how you are going to grow the business and scale within your means. You will find that money will follow.
“If your aim is to be a billionaire, you are not going to get there. If your aim is to impact thousands of people with a product and you can actually do that, you will get there. Always look to scale and you will find that success will follow you.”
Success comes from hard work, a great passion and a love for what you do, De Silva says. “It is incredible that a kid who has no university degree can rise so quickly. What a great country Kenya is – there are so many opportunities. I want to keep growing our businesses. The goals are limitless.”
Read more: http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/meet-the-boss-heshan-de-silva-ceo-de-silva-group-kenya/34322/
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