Natalia Sikombe ’12 Creates Cinematic Drive-in in her Hometown of Lusaka

The pandemic has adversely affected almost every area of daily life and the past year has made it abundantly clear that life may not go back to the way it was. However, this has created the space for innovation and entrepreneurship. ALA alumna and newest member of our staffulty, Natalia Sikombe ’12, saw an opportunity to connect Zambians during the pandemic by starting a drive-in cinema experience in the country’s capital, Lusaka.

Lusaka Drive-In was born out of a nationwide lockdown on all film productions and cinemas in Zambia. “A friend and I started to think about how we could be entrepreneurial during these trying times, as well as provide a source of safe entertainment to Lusaka City. So, we looked into the concept of drive- in cinemas and how this would work efficiently during the pandemic in Zambia; given it was already a pretty foreign concept.” shares Natalia. A business plan, a few partnership meetings, multi-media marketing and safety protocols put in place, the first viewing experience was successfully held in August 2020 in Lusaka’s East Park Mall. The drive-in cinema ran for weeks featuring classics such as Jurassic Park, Mission Impossible, Shrek and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther.

Born in Tanzania and raised in Zambia, Natalia was drawn to theatre, media, and film industries in her childhood. In fact, during her time as a student at ALA, she started a Student Enterprise called Radio Skika. “This is where I learned a lot about media and what it takes to use media to make a change with the resources available in the most entrepreneurial way possible.” she recalls. Today Natalia brings her learnings from working in the film industry, including as a floor and base runner for Netflix’s I Am Not Witch, to her Entrepreneurial Leadership class at ALA.  

Here are 7 tips from Natalia to consider before starting your own venture:

Tip #1: Understand the problem you have identified by conducting extensive research.

It is always important to be specific about the problem you have identified. In this case, the people of Lusaka city needed a source of safe entertainment in the midst of the pandemic. This allowed us to explore multiple ideas and conduct extensive research, which led us to cinema which was safe, family friendly, and COVID-19 friendly. 

Tip #2: Maximize resources available 

Having less doesn’t mean you are less likely to succeed, what matters is how you use those resources. In our case, we started out with our creativity, curiosity, communication skills, and the internet. 

Tip #3: Step out of the box; no idea is a bad idea

This process isn’t easy as it forces you to think deeply and conduct further research, but it can be highly rewarding. Being creative and innovative doesn’t mean you have to come up with a brand-new invention, but it forces you to think outside the box and challenge existing systems or ideas.

Tip #4: Build relationships

When we started out, we were a team of two, my friend and I. But we realized we needed to build our network in order to get other aspects of the drive-in going. It is important to identify all your possible stakeholders and what value they bring to your idea, and how they will also benefit from you in turn.

Tip #5: You might fail in order to succeed

Expect to fail and expect rejection. No matter how good your pitch and presentation are, no matter how prepared you are, no matter how amazing and innovative your idea is. Then make contingency plans on how you will move forward from these setbacks. How will you do better, or who should you approach instead? 

Tip #6: Believe in yourself

This is a hard one because it really does determine your success and ability to push and stay motivated. It is this same belief and self confidence that will pick you up when everything seems bleak. Believing in myself motivated me to keep trying and has helped me build confidence in my abilities to actually make a difference through entrepreneurship.

Bonus Tip: As a woman, don’t let the patriarchy derail you and your ideas!