For 22-year-old Cecil Chikezie life as a university student cannot be a barrier to entrepreneurship and the creation of jobs for his fellow youth.
The third year mechanical engineering student has already made impressive steps in the world of innovation and business. The student is making briquettes in Kitengela where he has employed two young men and a woman.
His Eco Makaa, an e-commerce company that connects local fuel briquette producers to customers has seen him win big ticket supplies including leading hotels in the city. He has now set his sights on households to provide them a better alternative to the charcoal as a cooking fuel
The young entrepreneur told Enterprise that he conceptualised the idea in April 2018, when the government began implementing the logging ban.
“I was emboldened by the fact that the making of my Eco Makaa will not necessarily depend on the charcoal dust since we are using carbonised maize cobs which are processed in a kiln by farmers we have trained. We mix it (cobs) with soil and water to make the briquettes,” Mr Chikezie said during an interview at his business premises in Kitengela.
“We can also use sugarcane bagasse as the main raw material,”
Some of his main clients include Nairobi’s five-star hotels such as Sankara and Intercontinental Hotel as well as Ole Sereni.
The entrepreneur has bagged prizes for his effort and innovation. He recently emerged third in the Anzisha awards, securing $12,500 (Sh1.2m) in prize money to boost the business.
The Anzisha Prize, which is awarded through a partnership between African Leadership Academy (ALA) and Mastercard Foundation, gave $25,000 (Sh2.5 m) to 21-year-old Yannick Kimanuka from the Democratic Republic of Congo and crowned her the winner of the 2019 Anzisha Prize.
The KIM’s School Complex, founded by Mr Yannick in 2018, is a nursery and primary school which aims to improve how children perform academically in school in her community.
Mr Chikezie says his business is now targeting homes, which statistics show, still depend on charcoal for cooking. He is working on an innovative packaging that include an eight-kilo brown bag retailing at about Sh800.
The advantage of the briquettes is that they burn longer and “quietly without sparks” in addition to being smokeless.
He hopes to improve the quality of the product to reduce the ash output and make it even friendlier to big scale users such as hotels since households can easily dispose the ash in the kitchen gardens.
The student, who only produce the fuel on demand to avoid incurring unnecessary costs, says he will use the prize money to expand the business through a more aggressive marketing.
The government has banned logging in a bid to conserve the environment. However, many Kenyans still cannot afford clean cooking energy such as the Liquefied Petroleum Gas or electricity.
Since the logging ban, charcoal prices have sharply increased and this is what motivated Mr Chikezie to search for more sustainable and cheaper fuel alternatives.
The Eco Makaa founder also plans to get a pick-up vehicle to help in transporting the products to the market as part of his preparation for increased orders.
“Transport is the highest direct cost we have to contend with at the moment because we have to hire pick-up trucks to ferry the briquettes whenever there is an order,” he says.
He has also created a chain of partners who he trains and gives the machine specifications that they can use to produce the briquettes to the standards he prescribes. This, he says has helped devolve the production process as the briquettes are aggregated only at one point and supplied by the company to clients who mainly order through the e-commerce website.
The use of other producers, who are just two in Nairobi, helps to save the company from owning any machines or premises for production. The move also brings together community members who already own these assets, ensuring a steady income by fostering community collaboration in supply of quality briquettes to clients.
Mr Chikezie’s company has sold about ten tonnes of eco-friendly briquettes through e-commerce and he believes he has saved about 75 trees that would have been cut down to produce charcoal.
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