SoftCenter, the SAP of Burundi looks to expand into East Africa

oday’s featured member of the VC4Africa platform is entrepreneur Désiré Nshimirimana of Soft Center, Burundi’s market leader in business management software. Soft Center provides a in-house developed management software package QuickSoft and a number of complimentary services. To expand its sales into Kenya, Tanzania and other East African countries, Soft Center is now looking for investors to raise $630,000.

Please describe your products and target market?

“At Soft Center we develop, sell and implement business management software. The company employs 30 people. In the past years we have developed our own management software package called “QuickSoft Applications”, the first really integrated management system for SMEs. It is the first system that integrates functions like account management, book keeping, stock management, payroll, HRM etc. This makes it unique. It can be regarded as a “mini-SAP”, or to be precise: Africa’s own mini-SAP.

Our product has proven to be successful in the market for medium sized enterprises in our home country Burundi. Our market share is well over 50%. For achieving growth in the smaller enterprises segment we have developed special applications per industry, like wholesale, retail, hospitality, education, manufacturing and processing, healthcare etc. And to accompany our core business we also do dedicated software development, supply hardware, provide trainings, do hardware and software maintenance and provide other related services.”

How did you get into this business? Where did the idea come from?

“I come from an entrepreneurial family. My parents ran a small company in retail and food production. By observing that as a child and by doing side jobs for the family business I became passionate for business and entrepreneurship. After having graduated in computer science and applied mathematics at the University of Moscow I started my career in IT. This opened my eyes for the business opportunities in IT in Africa. So after three years I founded Soft Center in 1995.”

Can you tell us about your journey building this company?

“The start was far from easy. I didn’t have the money to hire qualified software engineers and no-one believed in my concept because it was too new. So I decided to secure the interest of IT professionals in Burundi by creating a ”Software Developers Society” where we met to exchange knowledge and develop some applications. At the same time I started marketing and finally after some time I received the first assignments, allowing me to compensate the engineers. Soon QuickSoft became a well known product that conquered the country. Unfortunately the growth of my sales got slowed down a bit due to the political unrest in my country and the resulting economic downturn and financial sector difficulties. Since 2005 the country’s back on track and the sales are booming again.”

Are there many entrepreneurs like you in Burundi? Please tell us about the entrepreneurial landscape?

“In Burundi there are quite some good entrepreneurs. In fact the private sector is surprisingly strong. But most companies operate in sectors that serve the immediate basic needs of the country and the people. So we mainly have companies in agriculture, food production, general trading, construction etc. The ICT sector is still very small and consequently it lacks the capacities to develop and provide advanced solutions. The sector mainly relies on imports.”

Are investors afraid of Burundi? Can you tell us why they should consider a Burundi based company?

“Burundi isn’t yet a popular investment destination. But the facts show that the country is now becoming a good destination for investors. Burundi has recently received congratulations from the World Bank as one of the countries with the biggest improvements in the “business climate”. The Investment and Exports promotion authority API has been attracting many foreign investors through their package of tax and duty exemptions and advantages in property acquisition and capital transfer.”

You are presently market leader with your services in Burundi. What are your unique selling points as opposed to other local and/or multinational suppliers in your sector?

“Our product QuickSoft is unique in Africa and perhaps in the whole world: we provide fully integrated management software for a price affordable to SMEs in Africa. Maintenance solutions and upgrades are locally available. For competing foreign systems expensive assistance has to be flown in from Europe, the US etc. We offer tailored systems per industry type, and have a payment facility with a leasing system, allowing customers to pay their computerization bill over a period of 2 years.”

What are your plans for the future? How and where do you see opportunities in the region?

“2013 to 2015 we will work on international expansion and home consolidation. We will expand sales in Kenya, Tanzania and other countries in the East-African Community. In our own country we will extend our portfolio of related services like EDM and electronic archiving. And we will introduce solutions for smaller enterprises to achieve growth in the lower end of the market.

The Eastern African economies are developing fast, especially the private sector. Growing businesses have growing needs for ICT-systems to facilitate their operations and to support the management. We see today that Eastern African companies lack proper ICT-systems very much, especially in the SME segment. This gives good business opportunities for competitive and innovative ICT solutions providers. Soft Center has proven to be one, so we are confident to grow there.”

What do you need to make your plans a reality in the coming two years?

“We need capital for our international expansion. We need to invest in development works to adapt our product to English speaking countries, we need to invest in marketing and sales, and we need working capital. Soft Center itself can pay only part of this by itself. For the portfolio extension in Burundi we have already found a financial solution, by obtaining a PSI grant with a foreign partner. For the small enterprises project we are still working on a financing solution.”

What kind of investor(s) are you looking for and for which amount?

“We wish to elaborate with candidate investors the possibilities for financing by means of a loan, private equity or quasi-equity. This loan will enable Soft Center to do the planned investments and to achieve the forecasted sustainable growth. Soft Center is capable of meeting interest and repayment schedules based on sustainable revenues and high returns. For private equity investors the perspectives for an exit are clear and realistic. The amount sought for is USD 630,000.”

How do you see the VC4Africa community, how do you use it in your transition, and how can other VC4Africa members support you?         

“VC4Africa is a good platform to get in touch with people who believe in Africa and see the importance and the power of private business here. And it’s always good to share ideas on the ICT market in Africa.”

With all your experience, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs in the VC4Africa community?

“Keep focus, invest in good quality solutions and show perseverance.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“For investing in Africa you need guts. I hope to find people with guts to team up with and be successful together.”

For more information, see the venture profile of SoftCenter / Quicksoft expansion on VC4Africa. Only registered investors can review the documents, see details for this deal, and express their interest to participate.