Job creation, new product launches, technological development and the digitalisation of companies are just some of the results obtained through the business acceleration programme launched in the country by E4Impact and supported by Eni. In 2020 alone, 40 companies were incubated, while 20 received financial support. Between November and December 2020, we gathered feedback from the participants on the initial effects that they had experienced.
Business processes improve in the agribusiness sector
The E4Impact accelerator supports companies in the agribusiness sector, those that sustainably grow vegetables such as fruit and super-fruits, vegetables and herbs. It contributes to the existence of small direct producers, sharing best practices in order to support costs and consolidate revenues. E4Impact notably trains small entrepreneurs to position themselves correctly on the market. Felix Asenji, CEO and co-founder of one of the selected companies, talks about what he gained from participating in the programme: “I don't think there is a business course out there that can impart all of the knowledge I have acquired with E4Impact in one go. Coming from a scientific background, I was able to learn a lot, especially when it came to branding. Together with colleagues, we have revised the labels and designs, giving products a more professional, appealing and credible look, as well as managing to launch new products. We have realised what interests customers and how to exploit the full potential of the start-up. Furthermore, we have learned to better present the company, highlighting what is of real interest to investors. Our first three classes really helped us in fine-tuning our financial model and business model, which were a bit ‘sketchy’ at the time. We have also become more appealing to farmers who can join our programme for contracted external growers”. Thanks to the programme, Asenji’s start-up was also able to get involved on social media: “We have transformed the way we do marketing, especially when it comes to social media. We were guided by an expert who helped us understand which tools to use and how to create ad hoc messages for our target audience on social networks”. The start-ups involved are also improving in terms of technological innovation and sustainability: “We’ve started using solar-powered pumps”, Asenji explains, “and have negotiated better prices for farmers with one of the companies we work with. We normally encourage the farmers to get a tank that is raised and then pump water into it for storage. Solar pumps help save money compared to diesel ones”.
Free legal assistance for start-ups and new jobs in the circular economy
The circular economy is a production and consumption model based on the reuse, repair and recycling of materials and products over time, helping to reduce waste. In Kenya, too, many companies have started to work on generating value through recycling: “We participated in the programme because we wanted to improve our business processes and expand our activities to make us more attractive to investors”, explain Louisa Gathecha (Co-Founder and Head of Business Development) and Kelly Mwangi (Co-Founder and Operations Manager), who founded a Kenyan company specialising in glass recycling. “We had access to free professional services such as legal assistance”, the women explain. “We were able to formally register the company and put the documentation in place, and improved our accounting practices thanks to an accountant who optimised our internal processes and record keeping. The grant we received also enabled us to purchase locally produced equipment for breaking glass. Production has now reached 600 tonnes per month and the new equipment has cut production costs in half. We have also helped to employ around 100 ecological operators who have managed to expand their source of income in that they were previously limited to collecting plastic and cardboard but now also collect glass”.
Using technology to optimise crops
In an attempt to tackle the thriving market for poor-quality products and raise the level of customer service offered by agro-dealers, again in Kenya, technological companies have been created to make products and expert consultancy services available to farmers and cooperatives. Moses Kimani, for example, is the founder and CEO of an agricultural technology company that helps farmers adapt to climate change using precision tools and conservative cultivation: “Before joining E4Impact, we worked exclusively with fertilisers. Now we have also started working with satellite and drone imagery for farming. I chose to join the programme because it focuses on the business model, with the aim of developing and growing the business. What I liked about E4Impact was that they first of all asked us what our ideas were, right at the start of the project”. Thanks to the grant, the Kimani-based company was able to allocate most of its working capital to the production of a new line of fertilisers that soon became the best-selling in the catalogue. Furthermore, the startupper used part of the working capital to hire an engineer to develop a mobile app that could be used to provide weather data, map crop health and provide information on plant pests and diseases. Samuel Munguti, CEO of another Kenyan technological start-up, also wanted to offer feedback on his participation in the programme: “General speaking, our ability to tell our story and to introduce ourselves has changed. Our investor and stakeholder profile has also grown. Our business looks more sustainable commercially and socially and we have now started getting more interest from investors as a result. There has been a significant improvement in the processes and structures of the business. Thanks to the technology and training provided for farmers, his start-up has helped improve local agricultural production: “Agriculture in Kenya lies in the hands of small-scale producers. There is a huge gap in the provision of direct training. For us, however, supporting farmers in this sense is essential. I have always believed that if our farmers were more aware, we could start more sustainable businesses. In this period in which Covid-19 has interrupted traditional training provision methods, we have also moved from face-to-face training to digital, which is cheaper and more sustainable”.
Leather start-up produces Covid-19 masks
One of the objectives of the initiative is to develop the artisan skills of young men and women by combining tradition and innovation . “We participated in the programme mainly to improve our business model and reach a wider audience”. Leather company founder Wallace Waiguru explains. “The grant successfully sustained the business at a time when most businesses were greatly affected by the impact of Covid-19. We were also able to invest in equipment and machinery for fabrics and even a delivery vehicle (motorbike)”. All credit to Waiguru’s start-up, which, despite the impact of Covid-19, managed to retain five full-time and three part-time employees, converting part of its facilities to produce face masks. The role played by social media was also central to our success: “Thanks to the optimal management of the company’s social media channels, we were able to reach objectives that would otherwise have taken perhaps three years to achieve. We had to learn new concepts, but this helped us improve our image and our brand. For now, we mainly sell online or through word of mouth, but we have hired a salesperson to improve on this. Mkamboi Mwakale, founder and CEO of a start-up in the cosmetics sector, also shares her experience: “I didn’t have an entrepreneurial background and this was one of the reasons why I was keen to be part of the programme. I wanted to broaden my knowledge of these issues. It's like taking a crash course in entrepreneurship and marketing. I was very motivated and particularly enjoyed the training phase. We were taken through the whole process of business and financial modelling, looking at every aspect in great depth. In the end, we were able to work out what exactly we were offering, which has been very useful in our dialogues with investors and suppliers when it comes to defining who we are”. Mwakale's work has also had a positive impact on a local level, taking on various casual workers to help at the packaging stage when they are overburdened due to very high levels of production. Fortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic has not stopped their activity: “Initially, there was a sharp decline in sales, as well as reduced traffic in stores. We therefore decided to upgrade the website and the e-commerce system. We rolled up our sleeves and focused on marketing, online sales and customer service”.
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