Hannah Murage, 33, and Karen Mrema, 34, speak to Annie Awuor about using their brain power and love for baking to start a business that helps breastfeeding mothers in their lactation journey
Hannah: I am a scientific consultant and market researcher with extensive experience in Biotechnology and Biomolecular Biology. I hold a Master of Science degree in Applied Biomolecular Technology from the University of Nottingham and a Bachelor of Science degree in Biotechnology from the University of Reading. I have worked for Proctor & Gamble in Reading, Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International in Nairobi, Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation in Nairobi, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and MedImmune in Cambridge.
Karen: I am an Environmental Scientist and Communications Expert with experience in Programme and Project Management. I hold both Masters and Bachelors of Science degrees in Environmental Science from University of Toronto and Dalhousie University respectively. I have worked for UN Environment (UNEP) in Nairobi, Lusaka Agreement on Co-operative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Nairobi, UN Environment - International Ecosystem Management Partnership (UNEP-IEMP) in Beijing and the United Nations Volunteers (UNV) in Nairobi.
Hannah: I got my first baby in 2017 and, after months of breastfeeding, I couldn’t produce enough to meet my baby’s demands. I was tired of the traditional foods like njahi, sour porridge etc. After extensive research, I discovered the herbs (galactagogues) that mothers worldwide were using to boost their milk. However, when I combined these herbs to make cookies, they tasted like “grass”.
So, I asked my best friend of 21 years, Karen, who has always loved baking and trying out new recipes, to give my recipe a go and make a more edible cookie. So, Karen went into the kitchen and began to bake, and after a lot of back-and-forth and my scientific input on curing the spices, we formulated the cookie and muffin recipes, which were more palatable.
They worked very well for me and increased my milk production. We also gave them as unique gifts to friends who had just given birth.
These friends shared them with their friends who shared them further and, one day, we got a call from someone asking to buy the cookies.
We first began making the cookies and muffins as a hobby in July 2017. A year later in 2018, we became Lactacare Kenya Ltd.
We originally began only selling the cookies and muffins, and later launched the lactation tea. Our clients are mostly breastfeeding mothers in dire need of boosting their milk supply.
Most mums are “green” first time mums needing support more than the products. We walk the lactation journey with each Lactacare mummy. We do not stop just at selling the product, we follow-up and share tips and/or information on breastfeeding as a whole: expressing schedules, milk storage, meal plans, baby wellness and any information that helps the mum ease into the lactation journey.
Running a start-up:
Starting a business is never easy, especially in Kenya. There are many loopholes and challenges one can experience. For us, it was mainly marketing and building a community of mothers who would trust our brand and believe in what we were selling. It also took us a while to figure out packaging of our products.
One of the key ingredients is not very affordable locally, so we had to figure out channels on how to import. Lastly, although most people would say don’t mix friendship with business, I believe it is the best decision we made to get into business together.
It has worked out well for us because we not only have the same goals, but we believe in integrity and have each other’s back. Also, we have had our fair share of ups and downs, but Lactacare Kenya has never suffered.
Where we are now:
We are profitable and we are now in the process of moving into our new production offices which will enable us expand further and reach a wider mummy community.
Believe in yourself, believe in your idea and go for it. There will be naysayers everywhere, but they should not make you doubt yourself for one second. Embrace competition.
Further, we have learnt that the bottlenecks of surviving as a company are just unheard of. We wish there was a manual that gives a know-how on what to expect.
However we have our own list, and they include: You will have good months and bad months, but the bad ones should not discourage you or slow you down; don’t underestimate the value of free entrepreneurial classes; be careful who you discuss your ideas with, not everyone will guard them as you’d expect; you need a really strong team, you cannot afford a weak link in your chain.