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Taking the countryside online
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17 June 2011



The internet is the ground on which every child born in Fiji post-1990, has cut their teeth playing. Well, the kids that live in the suburbs anyway. If you asked these same kids about playing pani and rounders, you’d probably get a blank stare followed by, “are you actually speaking English?”

Yes, these children are the ones raised on Nintendo, Play Station, Xbox, Wii and networking sites such as Ringo (circa 2004), Bebo, Hi5, MySpace and now Facebook and the microblogging site, Twitter.

Love it or hate it, the internet is here to stay. Don’t fight it, embrace
it, use the technology to improve business and educate yourself - just ask Larry Page and Sergey Brin the creators of Google or Pierre Omidyar, the creator of ebay, the biggest online auction website in the world – about how they used cyberspace to make their fortunes. The internet can work for you.

Hendry Anreesh Daud Ali of Sigatoka and Madhukar Sen are two
such entrepreneurs who, on their own, have ventured outside their comfort zone and decided to set up their internet and computer repair/IT shops in Cuvu and Tavua respectively. Both were financed through the Fiji Development Bank’s Small Business Scheme (SBS).

The SBS is designed for any entrepreneur starting out or already
has a business in operation. The purpose of this facility is to help the applicant purchase or establish a business including the purchase or construction of buildings, equity investment, purchase of plant and equipment including motor vehicles, provision of working capital and the acquisition of shares. There is no maximum ceiling for this facility but can only be used by businesses with a turnover of up to $100,000.

Both in their early 30s, Hendry Anreesh operates Angel Net Café at
Cuvu, while Sen operates Sen Technologies on Nasivi St in Tavua Town.

“A few years ago while I was visiting my uncle in rural New
Zealand, I realized that there is always a market segment in rural
communities for business so when I came back to Sigatoka I did my research and found that the population in Cuvu is more than 12,000 people, which is quite big,” Hendry said.

“We also have in this vicinity, two secondary schools close by and
students as we all know have to access the internet for research and other social activities so the opportunity was always there.” Originally from Olosara, Hendry worked previously for a foreign exchange dealership before deciding to go into business for himself in July 2009. Cuvu is located about 8km outside Sigatoka on the way to Nadi. Largely a cane farming community, tourism is also big business in the area with a number of prominent tourism operations located in the vicinity. The street on which the main
Cuvu business centre is located is also fast growing and reflective of a changing time in Sigatoka.

Business these days continues to grow from strength to strength as
Hendry complements the internet access side of the business by selling computer accessories and providing computer repairs and service support for residents in Cuvu.

The students sure do make use of this facility – it buzzes from 3pm
when school ends till about midnight. The shop closes at 3am and reopens at 9am (Monday to Friday) or 10am on Sundays. Internet rates are at a bargain, costing a dollar for 40 minutes or $1.80/hr and computer games go for $4.00/hr.

With only one other competitor nearby, Hendry isn’t too worried
because he has established a great customer base and acknowledges that there is more than enough business for everyone.

In Tavua, Sen Technologies is snuggled around the backstreet of
Tavua Town, across from the Post Office and were it not for the eye catching green and orange Connect colours painted on the outside of the shop, you could easily have missed it.

“I have always wanted to run my own business but it wasn’t until
2006 when I was able to start this shop with the help of the Fiji Development Bank,” Sen said. His Connect connection is purely as a backup service and support agency.

An accountant by profession, Sen worked as credit controller in a
couple of places after graduating from the USP in 2001. Finding the work experience largely unsatisfying, he decided to try a different tack and signed up for IT classes at NZPTC and TPAF through distance education.

“Initially I wanted to open an internet shop in Suva, but I looked at
Ba and then Tavua, did my homework and decided that Tavua would be the location for my business,” Sen said.

“It wasn’t easy in the beginning because this was something new
for the people here then gradually business picked up and now I have my steady group of customers who come back because they are happy with the service that my team provides.”
Since 2006, FDB has progressively financed Sen’s business for purchase of computers, stock and working capital.

“I came to FDB because it had the lowest interest rate of 8% per
annum at the time compared to 13% everywhere else and I
continue to be satisfied with the service that the Bank has provided me over the years,” he said.

Up until a few weeks ago, Sen had a complement of six staff but
two have recently resigned and migrated. His client base also looks healthy with around 60 (mostly schools) on the list for the IT side of his business.

“I recruit diploma holders and I make sure they understand the
importance of customer service because we provide not only net café service but also sell computer accessories, computers, as well as repairs and after sales support,” Sen said.

“They learn a lot while they are with me because they work in a
challenging environment and I encourage and allow them to
develop their leadership and management abilities.”

In the five years that he has operated his business in Tavua, Sen
said he’s seen a shift in people’s attitudes towards the internet and computers in general. More, now embrace the convenience that is Skype and the convenience of emails compared to the snail mail of yesteryears. Access to the internet is relatively cheap at $1.50/hr and its convenience greatly outweighs the handwritten letters of yore.

“I have no regrets in making the decision to go into business for
myself. I have plans to extend opening hours from 8am – 5pm (Mon-Sat) to 8am – 8pm (Mon-Sat) and change my suppliers of computers from local to either Australia or New Zealand and maybe opening my second shop in Lautoka,” Sen said.

As for Hendry Anreesh, his future plans includes acquisition of
agency service for a utility company as well as a money exchange license which he has already put into motion. He also plans on opening another internet café in Kabisi, about 10kms away from Cuvu on the way to Nadi. Kabisi is the main shopping centre before the turn off to Natadola Road where several high end resorts and hotels are situated.

These two gentlemen have certainly brought their rural communities into the 21-Fast century.
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