Rose Moses, James Nyamai and Abraham Mbuthia were recently crowned the winners of an entrepreneurship challenge.
They were among 807 business owners who were looking to walk away with a combined Sh5 million that Total had set aside for its Startupper of the Year 2019 challenge.
The entries were whittled down to 15 before the final three winners were announced.
Rose, who runs Eco Makaa Solutions, walked away with the top prize and Sh2.5 million. James of BioAfriq Energy got Sh1.5 million while Abraham of UzaPoint received Sh1 million.
Hustle recently caught up with these winners to find out what being part of the challenge meant for their businesses, and how the money has changed things.
Rose Moses – Sh2.5 million
What is Eco Makaa Solutions about?
I’m a single mother of one and I co-own the company with Kennedy Omondi. We’re based at Obama Estate along Komarock-Kangaru Road, Nairobi. We produce briquettes and briquette machines. I do quite a bit of everything, but my official job description is business development associate.
What’s your start-up journey been like?
We were initially three co-founders who met at a research firm, where we were working. We later decided to quit our jobs to start this business.
The idea followed the Government ban on unlicensed logging and charcoal production; we saw an opportunity in that. From our research, we found that 82 per cent of the urban population uses charcoal in their homes, which meant that venturing into briquettes would pay off.
We agreed to raise capital of Sh21,000 – Sh7,000 from each of us – which we used to outsource a briquette-making machine.
What happened next?
It was hard convincing people that briquettes were as good, or even better than charcoal. As Kenyan consumers, we’re known for resisting new things in the market, so it took a while for us to start making sales.
This became too overwhelming for one of our partners, who opted out in the first month.
Kennedy and I soldiered on in the hopes that things would become better with time – and they did.
Currently, the company is valued at Sh3 million and has employed 18 staff countrywide.
It produces 200 to 300 bags of briquettes a day, and we sell a kilo at Sh30 and a bag at Sh1,500.
We also sell an average of 10 machines a month, with our prices starting at Sh75,000.
When drove you into the Total Startupper of the Year challenge?
I came across it online and gave it a try and was surprised that I was among the 807 shortlisted entrepreneurs. The competition was tough.
How do you plan to use your prize money?
We plan to use the Sh2.5 million to advance into a godown, open an office, distribute our machines across the country, improve the packaging of our briquettes and get our products into supermarkets and schools.
What has your journey taught you about the reality of entrepreneurship?
To start with what you have, whether that’s machines or money. Don’t wait until everything falls into place. We started with Sh21,000. If you don’t have all the resources, you could always outsource just like we did, and with time buy your own. The most important thing is to start.
James Nyamai – Sh1.5 million
Tell us about your company.
BioAfriq Energy, which is based in Machakos County, deals with the production of dehydration systems to help farmers avoid post-harvest loss, as well as institutional pellet-fired cookstoves, industrial pellet-fired burners and biomass pellets. We sell a kilo of pellets at Sh20.
How did you get into this line of business?
We started the company with my wife Doreen Achieng with Sh500,000 in capital, which we raised from our siblings, parents, close relatives and our savings.
Before getting into this business, we had a poultry farm, and were struggling to find charcoal, which we’d burn to keep the chicks warm. In looking for a solution, we ended up learning a lot about the bigger challenges related to using wood for cooking, and their impact on deforestation.
How do you plan to spend the money you won?
We have a growth plan, so we plan to spend the Sh1.5 million to increase our production capacity from the current 100 kilos of pellets per hour to about 500 kilos.
I’m also working on a mobile dehydration drying facility to reach farmers across the country. Additionally, we’d like to start a local assembly for cookstoves to cut down on shipping costs to distant locations.
Abraham Mbuthia – Sh1 million
Tell us about UzaPoint.
UzaPoint is a mobile application packaged as an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system for micro and small businesses.
We help these businesses automate their processes, connect with their clients and suppliers, as well as promote growth using simple and affordable technology. I’m a co-founder and CEO.
How does your application help small businesses?
We provide a tech solution that helps these businesses automate their operations by keeping track of sales, managing their stock, getting orders from customers and communicating with suppliers.
It is designed to ensure all business categories in a supply chain communicate under one integrated technology, what we call an Uza Community.
We now have about 15 companies using our product and more than 100 kiosks.
How do you plan to spend the money?
We plan to spend the money on a product launch to grow our customer base. We also have plans to be in at least five African countries within the next five years.
What would you like aspiring entrepreneurs to know?
In entrepreneurship, you start from anywhere, even from home. Work at minimum cost. And as you grow, find alternative sources of revenue. Get investors to invest in you.
Understand there is a process, and enjoy the ups and downs of it; you won’t get out without learning something.