Banking on burritos: A tasty profit

Google good places to eat in Skopje and you’ll soon stumble upon some rave reviews from all over the world for the burritos at La Puerta, a new Mexican take-away in the centre of the capital. ‘Great veggie burrito!!!’, ‘Nice tortillas, good service and tasty food... I recommend the chicken burrito -  Fresh!’, ‘…damned good burrito!’

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  • Since the Self-Employment Programme began in 2007, more than 6,000 people have found employment by creating their own companies or formalizing their existing business.
  • Over 73 per cent of the entrepreneurs who’ve received training and start-up equipment through the Programme over the past five years have remained in business- well above the average global success rates for new companies.

Opened in January 2012, La Puerta proved something of an overnight success. ’Mexican food is still not too well known in my country,” says the young entrepreneur behind La Puerta, 32-year-old Aleksandar Stevanovski, “But I knew burritos would be a hit with local people because they’re tasty but healthy and some of the key ingredients are fresh vegetables which we’re very good at producing here.”

Located next to Porta Makedonija, the triumphal arch leading to the renovated central city square, Aleksander’s burrito shop has a wide variety of fresh and tasty hot snacks and also offers free delivery. Aleksandar’s plan is to expand and open up several more shops throughout the city over the coming years.

La Puerta is just one of almost six thousand business success stories to emerge from the country’s Self-Employment Programme—a nationwide employment initiative to encourage and support unemployed people with business ideas to turn their dreams into reality. The Programme, designed and implemented with support from UNDP in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, has now been running for seven years.

“The Programme has exceeded all of our expectations,” says UNDP’s Project Manager Urim Kasapi, “especially in terms of the success rate of the new businesses. Recently, the UN’s International Labour Organization confirmed that over 73 per cent of the entrepreneurs who’ve received training and start-up equipment through the Programme over the past five years have remained in business. That’s well above the average global success rate for new companies. And we’re especially pleased that a third of these new businesses are being run by women and young people.”

Like many of the participants in the Programme, Aleksandar had tried a number of jobs before deciding to take the leap of becoming self-employed.  And though these jobs—as a restaurant waiter, a worker in a burek shop, and a hotel manager—did not add up to anything like a stable career, they did teach Aleksandar some very useful lessons in catering. But Alex says he always wanted to start up his own food business and was getting increasingly frustrated.

“The problem was getting started. I knew what I wanted to do but I couldn’t see how to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. Then I learnt about the self-employment programme and I started thinking more seriously about the possibility. I wanted to come up with an idea for food that would be quick to make and at the same time tasty and healthy.  Mexican food met all the criteria—with fresh and healthy ingredients like salsa and rice—and once I’d decided on that the idea wouldn’t go away.”

Advertised throughout the country, the Self-Employment Programme has attracted over 20,000 unemployed people like Alex, offering a short intensive course in basic business principles and close guidance from experts to help participants develop their business plans. Once their business plans have been accepted at the end of the two-day workshop, participants are eligible to apply for a small grant to help cover the costs of start-up and equipment.

“I couldn’t have achieved all this without the Programme,” says Alex, “Firstly because I needed a simple incentive like this to get me over the fear of taking the initial risk—a fear which anyone out there who’s been unemployed and has a business idea will be familiar with. Secondly, because the management training the Programme provided has proved invaluable, especially the marketing input, which was a real eye-opener. And finally because the start-up equipment I obtained with the help of the Programme was crucial to setting up the business.”

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