BY VICTOR ADAR
Total’s love affair with young entrepreneurs who are under 35 years started in earnest in 2015 when the first “startupper of The Year” challenge was launched. A glimmer of encouragement, enterprises which are less than two years old not only benefit from customised support and coaching, but also receive financial aid to develop their projects from Total Kenya. This time the overall winner took home Sh2.5 million, the first runner-up Sh1.5 million while the second runner-up Sh1 million.
Samuel Rigu of Safi Organics Limited, Susan Okioma of JSIL Space Solutions and Kevin Mureithi of Eco Blocks and Tiles are the most innovative entrepreneurs whose businesses caught the eye of the Jury. These entrepreneurs are rising, now financially well heeled and set to increase job creation especially among the youth if the thinking behind the latest contest that propelled them into top spots is anything to go by.
The winning lot brought very concrete projects to the table; their enterprises are expected to truly help strengthen the industrial base and create employment locally as the socioeconomic development initiative held in 34 African countries mean a good progress coming at a time when high rate of youth unemployment is real.
It is all about “think global, act local.” Answering questions like, what challenges need to be tackled where you live? How will your innovative project address them? After you show how, those who inspire, create, invest, hire and produce, are supported big time.
All projects are welcome, regardless of the type of business or activity, as long as they share the characteristics common to creative start-ups: innovation, competitiveness, growth boosting and job creation. It is such thinking, outside the box enterprises that will make things happen.
Following the selection of the challenge winners, other entrepreneurs especially those that are still facing various hurdles must change and find better ways of flourishing and turning whatever business they “touch” into gold. It is better to borrow a leaf and get some motivation from the three winners of the 2016 challenge.
Naturally, when you learn from the best you too become the best. Education, skills, work and everything in between, they say, is the key. Successful businesses started small. Try to picture the “Wahindi” entrepreneurs that have made big economic contribution to the country, for example. People in big businesses today are betting that they started as small shops. Learn the trade inside out, and create something that can meet needs. Below are three classic Kenyan run enterprises that you can learn from.
Safi Organics – overall
Samuel Wanderi is the Founder of Safi Organics, a young enterprise that produces a soil conditioner derived from farm waste. The company has developed – patent pending – environmentally friendly reactors together with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and unique recipes enabling the low-cost and decentralized conversion of farm waste into carbon negative soil conditioner in just under 2 hours.
Alumni of University of Nairobi with a degree in Agribusiness, Mr Wanderi has previously worked as a manager at Takachar where he dealt with conversion of agricultural waste into mosquito coils and fuel while mobilizing farmers to adopt organic farming. During his free time, he carries out voluntary training to farmers, Volunteers in children’s homes and takes part in environmental management training to students.
JSIL Space Solutions – first runner up
Susan Kwamboka Okioma is the founder of JSIL Space Solutions, a provider of cutting edge solutions that optimize space in constrained environments. Their products include shoe racks, toilet racks, car organizers, wardrobe organizers, as well as car boot organizer.
A graduate of the University of Nairobi with a Masters in Gender, Development and Agricultural Economics, Ms Okioma is not only a Gender Specialist Consultant and Volunteer but has also participated in several consultation forums such as the development of the new Constitution in 2010 under FIDA. She was also among the independent consultants mainstreaming gender issues of concern in the Global Fund Joint Malaria, TB and HIV Country Concept note development in 2014.
She is an entrepreneur who is passionate about solving social problems and challenges faced by women and children, perhaps as a master trainer at Kenya Red Cross Global Fund program assignment her future is bright.
Eco Blocks and Tiles – second runner up
Kevin Mureithi Maina is Co-Founder and CEO of Eco Blocks and Tiles. Things are clicking for him as he seeks to pioneer production of eco-friendly, affordable and durable building products from discarded postconsumer waste materials such as glass waste, industrial leftover fly ash and quarry dust.
Maina holds a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science and Technology from UNESCOIHE in The Netherlands and a Bachelor’s Degree in Science from Kenya’s Maseno University. He is a professional member of the International Solid Waste Association based in Austria, the Africa Representative of the Water Youth Network based in Paris and Chairperson of the Gilgil Climate Action Network.
In addition, he is a Co-Founder of Trace Kenya Group, a vibrant community based organization that works with young people in promoting environmental education and addressing environmental problems in Nakuru County. His goal is to contribute to the development of better waste management systems in Kenya by means of designing, organizing and implementing innovative local technologies that solve environmental problems in a sustainable way.