IT was an idea born out of the Midlands State University classroom, and after a relatively flying start, it was grounded by overzealous college security officers.
But as with all great ideas, it would eventually triumph.
And now, it has gained some sort of national prominence and recognition.
This is the story of little-known Gweru-based businesswoman, Mrs Sipho Pinky Mudzingwa (28), who is also a third year MSU student pursuing a Bachelor of Commerce Honours degree.
Mrs Mudzingwa, the founder of Chigutiro Food on Wheels, says the project was conceived in October last year while at school when she had challenges eating food prepared in the college canteen.
She says after realising that some lecturers also brought packed lunch or would drive to town get their lunch, she was convinced that this could be a viable business opportunity.
What then followed was a challenge to make practical what she had been taught about entrepreneurship, a mandatory second-year module for the degree.
Initially, her idea was to supply lecturers with lunch every day.
“The response to my first delivery was amazing; I got more orders. In a few weeks, I was delivering over 30 plates with some students now on my delivery list.
“Just when I thought everything was moving in the right direction, the campus security shut me down, citing health and safety issues. This hurt me so much that I undertook to try to formalise my business.
“This, with the help of my lecturers, got me where I am today (and) my business is still growing,” said Mrs Mudzingwa.
Now, Chigutiro Food on Wheels, has become a valourised catering business operated on a fully equipped, towable food trailer, serving “fresh, local and convenient food” to customers.
Its target market includes kitchen parties, bachelor’s, graduation and birthday parties.
Given low disposable incomes for most of the country’s workforce, including then scrum for markets by many investors in the food industry, there is naturally fierce competition for customers.
Only brave and consistent suppliers stand a chance.
For Chigutiro, Mrs Mudzingwa says quality is their biggest ammunition, and the fact that the business is mobile, has also endeared it with the market, especially those arranging parties.
“Our business is new, so every customer is new and we entered the industry knowing of its competitive nature and did our research.
“We offer unique services that make clients want to try us, and once they do, they come back for more,” added Mrs Mudzingwa.
But for a five-month-old venture, the business is indeed punching above its weight.
The budding entrepreneur is now focussing on re-investing in the business to ensure growth and longevity.
Some of Chigutiro’s top clients in Gweru are Shonns Finance, Gundu and Dube Legal Practitioners, Print Zone staff, Your Pharmacy, Zimra staff and local schools including Regina Mundi High.
Due to the innovative way the business was set up and its inherent potential as a start-up, the founder recently scooped the first prize at the 2016 Youth Entrepreneurs Programme (YEP), an award which carried with it US$3 000 in prize money.
YEP is a practical and results-based initiative aimed at producing growth-oriented (not survivalist) profitable businesses run professionally by youths aged between 18 and 30 years from across the country.
It is sponsored by CBZ Holdings and Empowered Life Trust, a non-profit making organisation.
Star FM are also partners in the project.
YEP was launched in October last year and will run until end of this month and graduates are required to start businesses that make profits and should be run professionally within 90 days.
Mrs Mudzingwa has used the funds obtained from CBZ to boost her business.
She acquired critical equipment for the business such as a refrigerator, chafing dishes, tables, chairs, tent and stationery.
“I (had) used personal savings to start the business and I was fortunate enough to get seed capital from CBZ.”
As part of efforts to professionalise the business, Chigutiro is in the process of registering with the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (Zimra) and the National Social Security Authority (NSSA).
Many start-ups have failed to attract funding due to the opaqueness with which they are operated.
The Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and Cooperative Development has been urging SMEs to formalise their businesses since 2015.
Presently, Government has dangled incentives to formalised SMEs, including access to the US$15 million facility for working capital to be disbursed by the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Corporation (Smedco).
Zimra is also offering tax holidays to SMEs that formalise before June.
Mrs Mudzingwa’s exploits in business have also been recognised by the Zimbabwe Champions and Heroes of Economic Revolution (Zimcheer).
This month, Zimcheer recognised her as the Star of week 10.
Zimcheer is a collaborative programme involving the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment, the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board (NIEEB) and Zimbabwe Youth Council.
It seeks to encourage youths to participate in the country’s affirmative action programmes.
However, Mrs Mudzingwa says Government needs to support aspiring businesspeople even more, especially through “more and more business training programmes”.
Government started SME training programmes in 2011 with a view to developing the human resource capacity of enterprises to ensure that they are efficiently and effectively managed.
Mrs Mudzingwa also believes that more business-to-business platforms that enable mutually beneficial synergies are critical to supporting SMEs.
Married and blessed with two boys, Mrs Mudzingwa says balancing between business and family is not easy and she “definitely” requires the support of both the family and Chigutiro team to pull through.
She contends that passion for one’s work is the key to success.
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