The various fields of engineering are still considered to offer some of the most lucrative and prestigious of job opportunities both within and outside Zimbabwe. However, as always, that might not be enough for some who have caught the entrepreneurial itch. There are many who solely chose the field because of its many touted benefits, who would happily cast their formal training aside when it comes time to choose a business idea but there are some who are passionate enough about their chosen field that they embrace and try to build companies around their expertise.
Each and every field of engineering opens up a plethora of business opportunities. Obviously some business ideas need more substantial investment than others, be it financial, industry experience, training e.t.c As I always advise, choose an idea that you can execute with the resources at your disposal instead of coming up with one so wild that you waste your time and energy on pointless secretive behaviour and paranoia.
Engineers are problem solvers, so consulting is one of the best ways of putting your skills and knowledge to good use. In addition to your technical skills, success in consulting requires excellent communication and analytical skills, as well as the ability to build relationships. A consultancy is one of the best small business ideas as not only can it be started on a low budget but you can also work from home. You can use the skills and connections you have gained from your previous jobs.
Zimbabwe is a ripe country for consultancies as many smaller firms which tend to expect too much from their engineering teams feel like they have to choose between costlier university graduates (who are usually accused of only possessing a wider range of what is alas only theoretical knowledge) and those with lower qualifications but who tend to have more practical experience. Because these firms are forced to choose between knowledge and experience that leaves room for consultants to fill in either direction.
Teaching, training and writing
You can also use your knowledge and skills to help develop the next generation of scientists, technicians and engineers through teaching or training. Businesses making an investment in advanced equipment or implementing new processes want to be sure that their employees can install, operate, and manage this equipment. Technical trainers can bring their expertise to these companies by developing and delivering training programs to help employees improve their own skills to ensure maximum efficiency and productivity in the company. There are also many businesses who hire unskilled employees who do not have the appropriate as these are more affordable. However, these businesses may wish to improve these workers’ skills in key areas over time. Some companies may just prefer to outsource their employee training.
Technical writing is also another viable business idea that can be started part-time and from home. Companies which may be looking for technical writing talent include textbook publishers, manufacturers, websites, e.t.c. You must have a love of writing and the ability to communicate complex topics in an accessible manner.
As interest in technology increases and the tools for creating electronic products become more widely available it has become easier than ever before to prototype your own. However most of this equipment still requires some investment which may be beyond the reach of the people who want to use it. 3D printers and electronic development equipment such as circuit board printers can be made available to people with the expertise to use it but who cannot afford it themselves for a fee. Your services do not have to be limited to the hobbyist market, bigger companies may also want to replace equipment and parts that they would otherwise have to import.
To put it mildly, most engineers and scientists are not the best of salespeople. On the other hand even the best of salespeople have an uphill struggle when selling products or services that require substantial technical know-how – you may have encountered this situation in smartphone shops when the only useful bit of information the person behind the counter can offer you is the price and the fact that ‘it has WhatsApp’. Such situations require a technical salesperson, someone with both the appropriate expertise and the salesmanship to sell such products to even the most knowledgeable of customers. While most firms can hire their own technical salespeople or train their existing sales teams into this role, standalone firms who offer this service also exist.
You can become the sales agent of manufacturing companies from both within and outside the country. In this way, you can sell complicated and expensive equipment to big organizations at a commission. With most international organizations having no presence in Zimbabwe they will happily accept your offer. In some cases you may not actually need to have a preexisting agreement with the company that sells the product. You just assume the role of a drop shipper whereby you accept orders and payments and then relay them (minus your own markup) to the manufacturer or authorized distributor.
Engineers can also manufacture original products which they designed themselves or simply those that are in high demand. We are a country with a balance of trade that is not in our favour so there are plenty of imported products which need local substitutes. Some engineers rather than build products are trained to design the systems and processes that produce these products.
It is common knowledge that most of our industry runs on old and outdated machinery. This means that there is a ready market for repairing and servicing these.
Remember that the term engineering nowadays covers a countless number of fields so there are countless more ideas and suggestions than those which I can cover here. However I hope that I have jump-started your creativity.