Tell us a little about your company and your green products
I started the company back in 2003 as a supply company to offer procurement services to larger corporations and multinationals. With time, we found that a bulk of the work we got was fuel-related. Some of our industrial customers were using several tons of eucalyptus timber to run their furnaces daily. As the order volumes grew and the available plantations dwindled, I realized that I had to find a solution that could solve this need and preserve the environment at the same time. Back in 2008, renewable energy was a little known area but I did a lot of research on the topic and I came across the use of agricultural waste as a solid fuel. I found that with the right methods and application, a plant-based briquette could produce heat and reach significant calorific value. We did quite a bit of testing and worked with a machinery manufacturer to build the right equipment and make the kind of briquettes we wanted.
Who or what inspired you while starting out?
My interest in business finds its roots in my family. My parents were entrepreneurs so I knew that I would find my way into running a business. I started out as pilot and flew for the airlines for over 12 years. During that period, I went back to graduate school to get a master's degree in management. In 2010, I decided to focus on my new business and work on renewables to offer a green fuel alternative to Kenyan industries and households.
What impacts are you counting on for your business (CO2 emissions reductions, new jobs created, etc.)?
Many households in both rural Kenya and in the informal settlements in the cities use firewood and charcoal as their main source of fuel to cook and keep warm during the cold season. This and the large volumes of timber used by industries greatly impact the few tree plantations and forest remaining. This negatively impacts global warming and rain patterns, which in turn affects our environment. I hope we will be able to make people replace timber and traditional fossil fuels with more sustainable alternatives. This would definitely contribute to reducing carbon emission and preserving our precious forests. I also see jobs being created in our sale and distribution departments, with our growing demand of briquettes around the country.
What are the main challenges of accessing finance and starting a business in your community?
In Kenya, banks generally don’t lend easily to start-up businesses or projects. In my case, it was even more difficult since renewable energy as a business is not well understood yet. There aren't many cases of established renewable energy businesses to use as a successful example. This has made raising the money for our briquetting plant very challenging. Organizations and other companies with an interest in renewable energy have been the main source of funding so far.
You attempted to raise funds through crowdfunding before, but you were not able to raise enough. What do you think it didn’t work?
I did start a campaign on Kickstarter for our briquette project but it didn’t raise the target amount. Knowing what I know now, I think I didn’t fully realize how much preparation is required to run a successful campaign online. The video presentation is also critical; and a constantly updated social media presence is important too. I didn’t have these tools ready at the level required for this kind of initiative; this probably undermined the results of my campaign.
What is your take-home message from the Crowdfunding Seminar?
Preparation, preparation, preparation. I saw the significant level of attention to details that you must have to start a crowdfunding campaign. The message about your business idea has to be communicated effectively to reach the right target audience. Everything needs to be carefully planned ahead.
What will you do differently in your upcoming crowdfunding campaign?
I’m going to pay more attention preparing the video for the campaign, identifying the messages and the reward to my donors. I will also try to choose the best crowdfunding platform and set the right target amount based on the objectives of my campaign.
Why do you think crowdfunding can be particularly helpful in developing countries?
Crowdfunding is the answer to fundraising for new businesses in Africa, and not only in the clean technology sector. Traditional financiers do not take risks in investing in start up businesses in Africa, yet changing the lives of the masses depends on an entrepreneurial spirit and the growth of the Kenyan middle class.
Now you have the support of the Kenya CIC Crowdfunding Pilot and will receive mentorship and training to launch a second campaign. What do you imagine in your future?
The future is bright and full of possibilities. I see growth in my business and impact in communities in terms of jobs and a better environment.