One of the trainers she worked with suggested a partnership with a family that owns a hotel. It turned out that they weren’t using their conference room, and they agreed to let Mildred turn it into a fitness space. They came up with a profit-sharing agreement – when the gym made profits, the hotel would get a certain percentage. Being a young business, Fitclique was only required to pay a small fee for the use of the space in cases when it didn’t make a profit. Such mutually beneficial partnerships are important for startups. They help companies conserve their financial resources while getting an opportunity to present their product and service to the market. Through this, Fitclique has continued to grow and is now able to hold its own in the agreement. “The contract is still going strong,” Mildred said of her partnership with Green Hills Hotel, Bukoto where the gym is currently located.
With the space locked down, it was time to transform it. The classes that were being offered at the time – strength training, dance, yoga and self-defense – did not require much equipment. “Instead of trying to impress people with a fully equipped gym, we created a very unique space that had everything we needed, and that we could continue growing and building, as we raised funds,” said Mildred. “Putting a place together in this way really helped. It worked well for us,” she added.
The initial setup phase of Fitclique was not without its challenges, as is the case with every new business. The first few months were tough. “It surprised me greatly that the business was endlessly suctioning the financial resources that I had,” Mildred said. This is an issue many entrepreneurs deal with, because businesses need certain assets to function effectively. These assets can quickly eat into one’s financial resources. Despite this, Mildred put on a brave face and kept going forward. “I was embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t know what I am doing, and I am scared, and everything is rough,’” she said. “It was crazy.”
Finding the focus
Having experienced some of the setbacks of business, Mildred applied for the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. She selected the Business and Entrepreneurship track. “I needed someone to take me through the process of streamlining and organizing my business,” she said. As part of the program, she attended a six-week academic and leadership institute at University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.
She had the opportunity to not only gain knowledge but also receive mentorship and advice. “It was nice to see that people really cared about us (the fellows) succeeding,” Mildred said. “Most of the time, startups, especially in Africa, don’t have this support and encouragement.” While the entrepreneurial ecosystem is expanding throughout the continent, there is still societal pressure for young Africans to get stable regular jobs. Many people still question anyone who dares quit a job to immerse themselves into a new venture. Mildred has maintained contact with her mentors who continue to not only advise her, but also brainstorm with her.
As a participant in the program, she also networked with the other fellows each of whom had experienced a fire that pushed them to embark on a project that would transform their community. They were all willing to share the highs and lows of their individual journey – from the feelings of impostor syndrome that few business owners tend to talk about to the milestones they had achieved. “Being with such brilliant people was incredible,” she said.
Fitclique was only two months old when Mildred left for the fellowship. At the time, it had several goals that ranged from growing and distributing herbs to taking the fitness movement to schools. The fellowship helped her focus. “We had sessions talking to our advisors about getting to the true foundation of why we had began our projects,” said Mildred. “They helped me understand exactly what I needed to do with Fitclique.”
By the time she went back home, upon completion of the program, she had two goals – open multiple women-only gyms, and focus on getting the Fitclique personal safety curricula to the different women that needed it. In November 2014, Fitclique256 was relaunched as FitcliqueAfrica to represent the ways its vision had expanded to included all of Africa’s women.