Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in November 2020 and was updated in February 2024.
Endless rows of hair products line the light blue walls of Virginie Adounon’s beauty salon in Bohicon, Benin. A steady stream of customers enter the shop. Light filters through wooden shutters on one side of the shop, naturally illuminating the welcoming space.
But Virginie’s shop was not always this way. When she first opened her business in 2017, she struggled as a woman entrepreneur. She served her customers from a small bamboo structure. During Benin’s rainy season, water would pour from the ceiling into the shop, making it extremely difficult for her to retain customers.
In addition to structural challenges, Virginie also lacked the business skills needed to run a profitable business. “I had no savings,” she recalls. “I spent my money as I earned it and did work on credit. I lacked materials and organization.”
A Passion for Hairdressing and Entrepreneurship
Virginie’s passion for hairdressing began when she was a young girl. She often spent hours braiding her friends’ hair, and her parents eventually decided to enroll her in an apprenticeship program focused on hairdressing and braiding. But somewhere along the way, she lost her enthusiasm for hairdressing in the stress of running a business.
“I feared that my business would collapse because of my mismanagement, of which I was not even aware,” Virginie says. “My home was in discord, and I was getting tired of working alone but couldn’t take on a skilled worker to help me because I had no savings to pay for her services.”
Then, in 2019, a friend told Virginie about a program training entrepreneurs in their community. BeniBiz is a business accelerator that – in collaboration with the Dutch nonprofit Bopinc, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Trade and Development, and the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) – aims to provide entrepreneurs in Benin with the skills they need to quickly build prosperous businesses, and by extension, local economies.
When I saw the training starting to work, I wondered if I was on another planet. Honestly, I didn’t know that by writing down my income, my expenses, and by taking note of my stock, that I was going to earn so much money.”
— Virginie Adounon, entrepreneur, Benin
Despite significant progress in recent years, 45% of Benin’s population still lives in poverty. TechnoServe is working to expand economic opportunities in Benin by helping farmers, agribusinesses, and entrepreneurs raise their production levels, connect with lucrative markets, and increase their incomes.
Business Training Transforms Lives and Livelihoods for Women Entrepreneurs
When Virginie first joined the BeniBiz program, she was unsure what to expect. However, she diligently attended the group training sessions and also benefited from individual business coaching. Through the training, she learned about the importance of keeping track of her sales, inventory, and expenses.
“When I saw the training starting to work, I wondered if I was on another planet,” Virginie shares. “Honestly, I didn’t know that by writing down my income, my expenses, and by taking note of my stock, that I was going to earn so much money.” Between February and September 2020, her revenue increased by 531%.
I didn’t know that I was entitled to a salary, so the first salary I received was like a dream, thanks to BeniBiz.”
— Virginie Adounon, entrepreneur, Benin
After four months of training, Virginie decided that she had enough money saved to modernize and expand her shop. She put down tiles and painted the shop an inviting color so each client would feel at home and always want to come back.
“I also learned with BeniBiz that you have to save for future investments,” Virginie says. “That’s what allowed me to have enough resources a few months later to reinvest in my business by creating my second hair salon in my town.”
New Challenges for Women Entrepreneurs
But when Benin reported its first cases of COVID-19 in mid-March of 2020, Virginie’s customers started to disappear. Her clients were reluctant to come to the shop for fear of getting sick, and her revenue plummeted. The TechnoServe team helped Virginie and other entrepreneurs in the program adapt their approach to follow health guidelines and sell in-demand products.
Entrepreneurs learned about the importance of installing handwashing stations outside their shops, using masks, and posting guidelines for their customers about proper safety protocols. Virginie’s business advisor also encouraged her to develop a side activity for additional income, and she began to produce and sell liquid soap to her customers.
“I bought washable masks from my apprentices and gave them to my clients,” Virginie explains. “News travels fast here from word of mouth. When two [customers] came in for braids and left with new masks, the others came back, too.”
Virginie is a proud mother of five boys and sees the income from her shop as an opportunity to invest in her children’s lives. “I didn’t know that I was entitled to a salary, so the first salary I received was like a dream, thanks to BeniBiz,” she shares. “My goal is to participate in the education of my five boys and also help my husband as best I can.”