Burning ambition sees widow triumph in business

For Susan Akinyi Nyamai, losing her spouse did not kill her dream of investing in education. Ms Nyamai owns a thriving enterprise at the heart of Nakuru town that is fast becoming the envy of many in the increasing competitive industry.

She has demonstrated the strength of a woman in entrepreneurship by making good use of her managerial skills to steer her empire that attracts students from all corners of the country.

“I have a passion for education and this is why I quit as a manager at the Kenya Institute of Management to join hands with my late husband and set up this venture,” Ms Nyamai, a business administration and project planning graduate says.

Unlike many widows who lose hope and focus in business soon after their spouse passes on, Ms Nyamai, who is an admirer of Kenyatta University vice-chancellor Professor Olive Mugenda and Keroche Industries chief executive Tabitha Karanja, says women are better managers.

“Given an equal chance, women can transform this country and the much touted Vision 2030 could as well become a reality earlier than projected,” Ms Nyamai told Money.

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Her ambition is not only making a big difference in Nakuru but also in neighbouring counties. Already, two public universities, Moi University and University of Eldoret, are collaborating with her to offer training.

Nakuru College of Health Sciences and Management is a centre of study that strives to nurture and instil the virtues of honesty and integrity in health, agriculture, Information Technology, business and nutrition among others to young people. She says.

The college was started in 2003 as a joint venture with her husband Dominic Achayo Ong’alo. She pumped Sh120,000, part of her terminal benefits after leaving Inter Technical Testing Services company, in Mombasa.

“My husband played a big role. With a seed capital of Sh500,000, part of it raised from loan, the journey started,” she says.

However, she says the journey hit turbulence in 2006 when her husband died. She turned to Equity Bank, which provided funding that has seen the college grow from one branch to two new outlets, one at Nakuru Agriculture Society of Kenya (ASK) grounds and the other at Kiamunyi.

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Ms Nyamai believes that the best way to market an education institution of middle level status is to provide quality services to students who will in turn use their skills to market the school.

“This is the tactic that keeps new students coming to our college,” said the 43-year-old mother of four.

The college started with 20 students pursuing a diploma in pharmaceutical technology. It later ventured into business management, hotel and tourism, and later economics.

The college, which has given rise to St Dominic Teachers Training College, in Kiamunyi, now has over 400 students.

And the collaboration with two public universities has opened new horizons.

“My joy is that students join this college knowing little but end up with vast skills and knowledge,” says the former alumni of the University of Nairobi and Kenya Methodist University.

Is there money in this venture? “Yes, there is good money and with a stable population of over 400 students, I would only be cheating if I say I’m not smiling all the way to the bank,” she adds.


“I have managed to buy five acres at Kiamunyi where our main campus will be situated and already half of the infrastructure is ready for occupation,” she said.

She has employed 56 people, 26 non-teaching staff and 30 lecturers of whom 20 are on permanent terms.

Leak plans

Like any other venture, the road to success has faced many challenges. “The main being managing people because some of your employees may be working for your downfall as others leak strategic plans to your rivals, “she said.

She says her dream is to start a private university to but lack of long-term financing has been the main challenge. Poaching of students and lecturers by her rivals has also hurt her enterprise.

The secret for success is not just hard work, passion, determination and dedication has also kept her going.

TheFounder Magazine

Made Of Founders

TheFounder Magazine is an online business magazine that focuses on starting, running and growing a business in Kenya today

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