Rwanda’s Jean Bosco Nzeyimana recently lived a day he’ll never forget.
Nzeyimana is one of three entrepreneurs at the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley who was asked to talk business — on stage, in front of a global audience and a phalanx of cameras — with the president of the United States and the founder of Facebook.
“Today was one of the biggest days of my life,” he said afterward. “I got to meet President Obama himself and exchange ideas.”
On stage, prompted by Obama, Nzeyimana explained the impetus for his business. Having grown up collecting firewood so his family could cook meals, he was driven to start a company at age 19 called Habona Ltd., which uses biogas and produces briquettes to use as environmental cooking fuel.
Here’s how he explained the startup to the president:
A shoutout to the YALI Network
Nzeyimana is one of the Young African Leaders Initiative Network’s nearly 250,000 members across sub-Saharan Africa. The network is part of an effort by President Obama to encourage young African adults to become active in business, community organizing and public management.
According to Nzeyimana, while he knows a lot of entrepreneurs, he had formed an incorrect version of Zuckerberg in his imagination: he expected an imposing, even intimidating, executive type. But Zuckerberg — wearing running shoes, a T-shirt and jeans — chatted for 20 minutes backstage with Nzeyimana before the formal discussion.
He was a “normal guy, a cool guy,” Nzeyimana said. “Success is not for a particular type of person.”
Nzeyimana recorded this message to his friends in the YALI Network and to anyone in Africa considering a business idea. He reiterates a point made by Zuckerberg, who argued that most beginning entrepreneurs, including himself at one time, don’t focus on business, but tend to simply think about whatever problem they hope to solve.
“The [business] policies and the other partners take hold as we come along the way,” Nzeyimana said. He now employs 25 people and continues to be fueled by his desire to help move society forward.