Entrepreneur on a mission to safeguard environment
Monday, May 27, 2019 19:54
By John Cheruiyot |
When she was announced the winner in the Total Startupper Challenge in March this year, Rose Moses felt she was finally on top of the world. The award was the culmination of a challenging business journey that had seen its fair share of ups and downs.
When she was declared the overall winner, beating more than 800 other applicants, she also took home a package of Sh2.5 million as cash prize, as well as mentorship and training both in Kenya and France.
Her firm, Eco Makaa Solutions, won the hearts of the judges for its environment-friendly briquettes. The startup also fabricates the machines that make the briquettes.
The road to attaining such recognition had been long and rocky. Right after high school in 2006, Ms Moses’ life took a dramatic tough turn because her parents were unable to pay for her college education. This compelled her to start thinking of setting up a business. She joined hands with a friend and set up a distribution enterprise dealing in alcoholic products.
“Before long the business was doing pretty well. Cash was rolling in and ours was a good life,” she recalled.
Her role was managing the business in Meru as her partner moved around scouting for new clients. This halcyon period in the business world did not, however, last long. Her relationship with her business partner started to flounder, and later irreparably degenerated. “The threats to my life were the last straw that broke the back of my patience,” says Ms Moses, 33.
Now it was her against the world. As she pondered what fate had in store for her and her son, she decided to sell whatever property she had under her name. She then moved to Nairobi in 2012, where she was hosted by a relative as she sought to find her footing.
After tossing around a number of business ideas in her mind, she decided to invest in a mini supermarket at Greenfields estate. However, the business refused to break even despite all her valiant efforts.
“Instead of bringing in money, it was actually burning it at an alarming rate,” she told Business Daily.
It worried her a great deal that the Sh150,000 capital she had pumped into the enterprise was fast getting depleted. Sooner rather than later, she cut her losses and closed shop after one year in operation. She then relocated from Greenfields to look for a cheaper house in Kayole estate.
Life was proving to be a jigsaw puzzle for the young mother and she had no clue how and when the pieces would fit neatly together again.
“Those were tough times to say the least. I had no idea how I would get food for my son and myself, let alone how I was going to pay rent,” she reminisces with a tinge of sadness evident on her face.
Lady Luck, however, smiled on her path and she soon found a job as a waitress in a small hotel. “I was being paid Sh6,000 a month. This was godsend as buying food and paying rent would no longer be a constant headache,” she says.
Another better paying job came her way a couple of months later, before eventually landing at a research firm.
It was while working at the research firm early last year that a project on eco-friendly fuel caught her attention. On further research, she realised that making briquettes was a big opportunity she could pursue. This was also the time when government had announced a ban on logging, meaning such fuel products would easily get a ready market.
She also discovered that crafting the machine that makes briquettes was no rocket science. “I decided I was going not only to make the briquettes but also fabricate the machine that makes them,” she says. “From my research, I had developed a clear mental picture of how the prototype would look.”
However, translating her imagination to a real machine that works presented a set of hurdles. But Ms Moses’ steely resolve would not be shaken easily.
“I went from one fabricator to another in Nairobi in vain. I was told it was too difficult and expensive project to venture into. Others told me it was a figment of my imagination and dismissed me outright,” she says.
“Nonetheless, I knew I was on the right path and no amount of discouragement would deter me.”
After Nairobi fabricators failed to grasp her idea, she set off to Nakuru town. “I had been told that Nakuru is the home of the best fabricators,” she says.
And indeed in Nakuru she met a fabricator who told her the idea was feasible. But another problem was that she did not enough money. She had hastily quit her job to chase her business dream and had no savings to write home about.
She persuaded two of her former colleagues at the research firm to partner with her. They agreed and raised Sh21,000, each contributing Sh7,000. However, even before the machine could be made, one of them developed cold feet and chickened out.
Ms Moses however soldiered on with the remaining partner, Ken Odhiambo, and last year in July, their effort was eventually rewarded with the first prototype of the briquettes machine. “This was a dream come true and I must have been the proudest person on the planet,” she enthuses.
The next mountain to surmount was how to put the gadget to work. What raw materials, for instance, would be used to produce the briquettes? They tested with soil mixed with water as raw material and voila! What came out was precisely the kind of product she desired.
“It was unbelievable. I only needed to get the right raw materials and we would be good to go,” she notes.
She chose coffee husks, sawdust and cow dung, which are available in plenty, as raw materials. Because her skills in making briquettes were still basic, the first batch of products were not of good quality and her first customers expressed as much. “The machine also had its own imperfections,” she says.
However, the quality of the briquettes kept improving with every subsequent production, in the process gaining the confidence of their customers.
Making and selling the machine would soon be a key line of revenue for her fledging enterprise. When she posted a photo of herself and the equipment on her Facebook page, someone from Isiolo offered to buy it.
“At first we didn’t want to sell the machine because that would mean our business would grind to a halt. But on second thought, we decided to sell it and make two more,” she says.
They sold it for Sh75,000, prompting them to realise they could earn more money from the machines than from briquettes . “It was not long for one of the two new machines to get buyers,” she reveals.
With the prospects of the business starting to look bright, they aggressively took to the social media platforms to market their products.
“Currently, most of the orders for machines and briquettes are from online clients,” Ms Moses says.
“Currently the demand for the machines is impressive. We can sell a between 10 and 15 machines in a month,” she says.
The enterprise earns Sh500,0000 a month from the sales of machines and about Sh200,000 from briquettes. From one staff when it started, the firm now has 18 employees working in Nairobi’s Dandora premises and the firm’s outlets in Meru, Nanyuki, Malindi, and Mombasa.
Such is the growing popularity of their machine that Eco Makaa Solutions now has customers from Uganda, Botswana, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia .
What is interesting is that the buyers of the machine are trained at a small fee on how to make quality briquettes. Ms Moses says she is doing this for the sake of the environment whose conservation is one of her passion.
“The challenges facing the environment are immense and I cannot singlehandedly address them. We need the effort of all of us. This is why we are selling the machines and training our customers on how to use them,” she says.
“We are preaching the gospel on saving our environment by providing cost-effective, high capacity, locally made briquettes. We are championing the campaign of safeguarding the environment for a sustainable economic growth in Africa and beyond.”
The firm is also replacing for free the old imperfect machines they sold when they were starting out with the upgraded ones, whose performance has tremendously improved.
“We decided to replace them without charging our customers even a cent. When they have a perfect machine they serve as our sales agents and we get more customers,” she says.
Ms Moses has set a very ambitious target for her business. “I want my briquettes to be as common to Kenyans and beyond as Panadol,” she says adding that she plans to have a footprint in all corners of the country.