My passion for entrepreneurship started when I was pursuing my Bachelor’s degree in Clothing Textiles at Egerton University. I started a shop to sell soft furnishing for fabrics such as bed covers, curtains, baby sets etc. This business however did not go as smooth as I had earlier imagined. It was a whole ocean of passion and just a drop of business management skills.
My internship at Kenya Industrial Estate in Thika, Kenya, coupled with my work with a non-profit, Carolina for Kibera, as officer in charge of economic and entrepreneurship projects, acted as a stepping-stone into the world of entrepreneurship. Carolina for Kibera used to have a project on charcoal briquettes, giving me my first interaction with the products.
After I left the organization, I was very passionate about charcoal briquettes and I thus researched more on them, later developing a business concept around them. In 2016, I was among the 1000 young entrepreneurs who benefited from the Tony Elumelu funding program. With the training, mentorship and seed capital of USD 5000, I established Alternative Waste Technology Ltd.
The year 2016 was such an eventful one: I quit my job at Carolina for Kibera, established my enterprise, and in February, I was accepted for the YALI Regional Leadership Center East Africa program.
The YALI program turned out to be an avenue to self-realization and a big boost in my leadership journey. In the design thinking class, I learned how to clearly articulate the problem I want to solve, greatly shaping the way I structured solutions for my enterprise.
I now work with a team of six people in production department, about 100 people who collect the charcoal dust we use, and 6 distributors. I buy charcoal dust from households in Kibera, each sack going for ksh.200 and we are currently making 250-300 bags of charcoal briquettes every month. So far, I have been able to reach 1200 women, and the journey goes on! I am sure I will reach even more households and impact the lives of many in my Country and even beyond.
As YALI is big on networking and providing business opportunities post the program, I left the Center a more aggressive person in looking out for opportunities where I can benefit and grow. A perfect example is the Business Skills Immersion (BSI) program, a partnership between the Center, the Kenya Community Development Foundation and financed by the Citi Bank Foundation. This program further sharpened my entrepreneurial expertise and connected me to a mentor to guide me on how to take my enterprise to a higher ground. I am able to connect with people more comfortably than I did before.
I look back a few years ago when I was stranded and struggling to find a footing, and appreciate that programs like YALI exist. I am now a mentor to many young people in my country who aspire to put their feet into entrepreneurship.
This blog was originally published by Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) East Africa.
Stella is the Chief Operating Officer for African Entrepreneurial Network Ltd