Judging the Tangaza College Business Plan Competition & Striking Oil in Naro Moru

As part of my Frontier Market Scouts assignment with Eco Fuels Kenya, I am spending 20% of my time scouting new companies and partners for future Village Capital programs. The first scouting opportunity of my placement came on March 15th when I was forwarded an invite to the 2nd Annual MBA Global Business and Sustainability Business Plan Competition at Tangaza College in Nairobi, an event put on in partnership with ALTIS Postgraduate School of Business & Society of Milan, Italy.

Upon arrival to the competition the audience and participants received a welcome reception from the dean of Tangaza College prior to splitting into four different rooms for the different categories of presentations. Unable to decide which of the four I wanted to sit in first, I curiously stayed back to hear the de-brief given to the judges of the competition, most of whom represented impact investing

Judging the Tangaza Competition alongside ALTIS, Jacana Partners, and Acumen Fund

Judging the Tangaza Competition alongside ALTIS, Jacana Partners, and Acumen Fund

I was assigned a section and listened to pitches from 6 enthusiastic social entrepreneurs from Kenya, Zimbabwe, Uganda and other African countries over the morning session, critiquing each one on the competitions three criteria: Business Potential, Implementation Capacity, and Social Potential. After a winner was selected there was a short break before the afternoon session where the top businesses of each section (Agribusiness and Accommodations, Business Services and ICT, Green Economy and Manufacture, and Health and Community Services) would pitch to the entire audience and a new mix of judges for a chance to be crowned the winner of the competition. As more opportunity presented itself,

Tangaza Competition Winner Innovation Eye Center

Tangaza Competition Winner Innovation Eye Center

I secured a spot on the final judges’ panel alongside representation from Acumen Fund, Jacana Partners, and ALTIS Postgraduate School of Italy. After hearing the best pitches from each of the sections, we unanimously chose Innovation Eye Centre, an Aravind Eye Hospital replication, the winner of the competition.

I was grateful for the opportunity to participate as a judge in the competition and to network with the young social enterprises and established industry funds who made the event a success.

The moving team preparing to move 10 tons of equpitment

The moving team preparing to move 10 tons of equpitment

Back in Naro Maru, on that same Friday, we had got our new machinery delivered from the port where it was being held in Mombasa along with a pleasantly unexpected drop-off of Croton Nuts from a new collector with their first, hopefully of many, deliveries. The dedicated team, with the help of about 10 casuals, worked through the weekend to offload the 10 tons of Croton Nuts into the storage room and 10 tons of equipment from the trucks that they came on to their appropriate locations. Without sophisticated machine moving equipment that we would have likely used in the ‘west,’ it was the help of levers, pulleys, steel rollers, and manpower that got the machinery in place and mounted by the middle of the week. After all the machinery was in place it was up to local electricians and welders to put the remaining pieces in place to get us up and running properly. The team worked closely with the welders and electricians for the remainder of the week to make sure each motor, pan, connection, and filter was properly placed and mounted for the start of our oil production the following Monday.

Oil being produced for the first time since my arrival nearly two months ago was a great way to get the week started and had a noticeably energizing effect on the Eco Fuels Kenya team. The perseverance and patience of the team and it’s management as many unexpected and uncontrollable hold-ups came about over the past two months, ranging from delays in funding to the country’s presidential election, demonstrated a strong mentality to overcome obstacles and stay focused on goals; perhaps the most critical factor for success when working at startup social enterprises in a developing country.

Croton seeds entering the press

Croton seeds entering the press

Cake as a by-product of oil production, an ingredient in our fertiliser

Cake as a by-product of oil production, an ingredient in our fertiliser

A river of Croton Nut Oil

A river of Croton Nut Oil

As the staff continues to work diligently at getting the machines producing at capacity I will be completing modifications to the company brochure, which will be supplied to our resellers to help retail distribution of our products, and updates to the business plan, which will be distributed to a number of enthusiastic impact investment funds we have been in contact with over the past four months. With modifications to the website, brochure, and business plan paired with a factory full of new equipment that is running at capacity we look forward to re-engaging with interested investors that want to help us meet our growth and impact goals of the future.

Stage 3: Prepare – Putting the ‘Eco Fuels’ Pieces in Place

The past couple of weeks at Eco Fuels Kenya consisted of learning the processes of day-to-day operations, getting to know the personalities and roles of each team member, and starting to find ways to contribute as a Frontier Market Scout. I did my best to do anything and everything to get involved; from helping to mill organic fertilizer to finding pushpins to track collection centers on office maps to helping to prepare a plot of land for another Eco Fuels Kenya demonstration garden. On the side I completed the development of a new website to give the company the professional image it deserves for its accomplishments and opportunity. It’s nice to already feel like a contributing member of the team after being here for less than one month.

Eco Fuels Kenya - 1 Year Anniversary

Myself with the Eco Fuels Kenya team at the one year anniversary celebration

My third weekend in Kenya marked the one year anniversary of when Eco Fuels Kenya became a company, and to celebrate the team went out for a Saturday afternoon lunch at a nice resort at the base of Mt. Kenya. In addition to the meal, the team and I were able to enjoy activities like horseback riding and boating while they reflected on what they’ve learned during the transition from an NGO project to a sustainable social enterprise. The afternoon ended with each team member receiving a letter of appreciation from the executives congratulating them on the work they have accomplished thus far and rewarding them with a 10% increase in salary, which they were all very pleasantly surprised to take home with them.

Founder Alan Paul Searching for Croton

Eco Fuels Kenya Founder Alan Paul travels into the bush in search of croton

With Kenya’s national elections shutting down the country for a couple days, Alan and I decided to spend Monday taking a hike into the forests of Mt. Kenya in hopes of locating a new, dense population of Croton Megalocarpus trees for future collections. Despite our search coming up fruitless, both literally and figuratively, it was great to spend 5 hours hiking 16km through the bush and forests of the mountain building up the anticipation of game sighting with every pile of elephant dung and footprint that we stumbled upon. Learning how social entrepreneurs spend their ‘days off,’ while simultaneously putting some real context to the title of my blog, proved to be a tiring but enjoyable experience.

Moving 40 Tons of Croton Seeds

Half-way through the transport of over 40 tons of croton seeds

Having recently acquired the second half of the factory space from a vacated tenant, the short 3-day work week at Eco Fuels Kenya consisted of business as usual for collections, sales, and management and a single goal for the operations team: transporting 40 tons of Croton Nuts from the old store room to the new. The additional space and optimized layout of the factory will result in increased productivity for the processing of Croton nuts into oil and fertilizer, but it requires the movement of some heavy items such as the feedstock materials and machinery. I made up part of the four person croton moving team, although I didn’t contribute nearly as much as the other three, and we were able to complete our goal by the end of the work day on Friday.

Reflecting on what I’ve learned about the team, history, and opportunity of Eco Fuels Kenya and returning to my Frontier Market Scout classroom notes on the Monitor report From Blueprint to Scale – The Case for Philanthropy in Impact Investing has helped me to understand the organization in an industry-relevant context. The report, which outlines four stages of a pioneering firm’s development as Blueprint, Validate, Prepare, and Scale has gained increased popularity for how social enterprises should successfully evolve to reach their full potential. I realized that Eco Fuels Kenya has successfully completed the Blueprint and Validation stages, starting with founder Alan Paul’s comprehensive analysis of the opportunity and finishing with the receipt of an investment from Village Capital and GrowthAfrica after one year of concept validation.

With recent factory expansion nearly doubling operating space and quadrupling production capacity with the anticipated delivery of new equipment in the coming weeks, Eco Fuels Kenya is spending its energy preparing to scale; stage 3 of the 4 stage blueprint. It’s an exhilarating time to be a part of the team and identifying projects for the weeks ahead including: building brand and awareness, setting up equipment and operations, and identify and eliminate bottlenecks.

Eco Fuels Kenya - Factory Sign

The updated Eco Fuels Kenya factory sign with the new tagline I came up with

Author’s note for the Social Enterprise nerds:

Monitor’s report primarily makes the case for philanthropic capital’s role in impact investing, stating that many social enterprises require grant capital to go through blueprint, validation, and preparation stages successfully before taking on equity or debt in a way that won’t limit their ability to reach their impact potential. Although Eco Fuels Kenya has not taken on any philanthropic capital to date, founder Alan Paul does admit that the time spent with the project when it was part of an NGO was crucial to the company’s development thus far because it allowed him to analyze processes, tweak production capabilities on machinery, and validate customer willingness to purchase the products before the initial personal investment he made to start the organization.

In my opinion this further validates the case for philanthropy in impact investing whether it is direct, with social enterprises receiving grant capital, or indirect, in transitioning a social enterprise from nonprofit to for-profit when the blueprint and validation stages have already started which appears to be the case for Eco Fuels Kenya.