The agrifood sector is fundamental for Africa’s economy, and so is the commerce of solar dehydrators; that’s why it’s necessary to guarantee the proper functioning of this tools. Unfortunately, these dehydrators are often affected by weather conditions and they turn out to be defective or malfunctioning, putting farmer’s actvities to risk of damage.

This is the reason why our E4Impact entrepreneur James Nyamai decided to found BioAfriq Energy in 2017. This Kenyan-based social enterprise has the goal of addressing the challenges faced by pure solar dehydrators and bringing affordable and working alternatives in the market, providing heat for pure solar dehydration during the unreliable months.

The entrepreneur joined our Global MBA in Impact Entrepreneurship in Nairobi (Kenya) in 2016, to convert his idea into a concrete business, scale it up and improve his business strategies. After that, armed with new knowledge, he participated in the Total Startupper Award in Kenya, where he emerged as the first runner-up in the competition, securing a grant award of KES. 1,500,000. This significant achievement served as the catalyst that kick-started BioAfriq Energy, propelling it towards success.

“The MBA program proved to be an invaluable source of knowledge, providing me with profound insights into effective business management. During this program, I gained a comprehensive understanding of vital concepts such as business modeling, business plan development, customer segmentation to identify my target audience, marketing plan creation, financial modeling, and projection development. Additionally, I learned the art of pitching a business plan to secure investments, which was a completely new experience for me.” he stated.

Let’s have a look to the interview we made to James.

1. How was your Business Idea born?

The company’s journey began when my mother, a seasoned farmer of over 30 years, encountered a disappointing situation. She had entered into an agreement with a purported company to cultivate pumpkins on her six-acre land under irrigation. However, after successfully harvesting over 50 tonnes of pumpkins, the promised market vanished, leaving her devastated. Determined to find a solution, I joined the efforts to secure a market for the surplus pumpkins.

As we traveled across the country, we discovered that many other farmers had fallen victim to similar scams, resulting in an oversupply of pumpkins in the market. To add value and extend the shelf life of the pumpkins, we explored the idea of drying and milling them into flour. Upon carrying out a market research for affordable solution with farmers and processors who relied on pure solar dehydrators for possible alternatives, I realized that solar dehydrators never had a solution to make them usable during the rainy and cold seasons and so dehydration operations were halted during this period.

Frustrated by the lack of affordable alternatives in the market, I decided to leverage my engineering skills to develop a system that could provide heat for dehydration during the unreliable months for pure solar dehydrators. This led to the design and fabrication of an equipment that utilized clean energy derived from recycled waste agricultural biomass and solar power. The system was carefully engineered to achieve zero carbon dioxide emissions while burning the biomass fuels. After two years of dedicated work, testing various models, we successfully developed a groundbreaking technology and obtained intellectual property rights for our innovation.

2. What were your first business ideas and/or plans before joining the MBA? 

Prior to joining E4Impact, I ventured into a poultry farming business that unfortunately did not meet my expectations. However, amidst this setback, a new concept emerged from the poultry business: the production of biomass briquettes. The excessive use of charcoal in the poultry operations led me to explore the idea of venturing into briquette manufacturing as a new business opportunity. Eventually, this idea took a different turn as we incorporated briquette technology into the dehydration processes available today.

3. Which main challenges were you experiencing in your business, if any?

In my previous business venture, I made numerous mistakes that hindered its potential for growth. Due to my limited knowledge, I ran the business as a local shop, failing to tap into its true possibilities. I lacked crucial elements such as a business plan, marketing strategy, financial model, and projections, which proved detrimental to its success. However, the MBA program proved to be a turning point, enlightening me about these vital aspects and pinpointing the areas where I had faltered. Armed with this newfound knowledge, I embarked on a fresh start, leading to the flourishing of BioAfriq Energy.

4.  What has surprised you the most about this experience?

The business model canva struck me with its remarkable simplicity. When I first encountered this concept, I was astounded by how one page could encapsulate the entirety of a business. Ever since, it has served as a living document, consistently guiding and shaping my business endeavors. Its effectiveness and efficiency have made it an indispensable tool throughout my entrepreneurial journey. Whenever we consider making changes to our strategies, we always begin by visualizing them on the business model canva before expanding into other documents such as the business plan and marketing plan. Additionally, creating a financial model from scratch using Excel has been another powerful tool that has greatly assisted us. When we embarked on establishing our subsidiary company, Taliana Foods, dedicated to processing dehydrated products into gluten-free flour blends, these tools proved indispensable during our planning and startup phases.

5. What has been the main challenge you had to overcome in your entrepreneurial experience?

I had developed a groundbreaking technology that played a crucial role in reducing post-harvest losses for farmers and minimizing downtime for processors. As an innovative solution, it required significant marketing efforts, including conducting test runs with potential customers before they would consider purchasing the technology. This endeavor necessitated extensive travel in 2020, but the challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions and skepticism among our target customers regarding the effectiveness of a locally developed solution compelled us to establish strategic partnerships with influential organizations. These partnerships served to enhance our credibility and address the doubts surrounding our technology. Drawing upon the knowledge acquired during my MBA program, and with a strong commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG No. 17, we actively pursued strategic partnerships to bolster the credibility of our dehydrators. This, in turn, facilitated the widespread adoption of our technology, and the momentum has only continued to grow as we collaborate with more organizations dedicated to reducing post-harvest losses.

6. In your opinion, what are the main qualities an entrepreneur should have?

Patience and a desire to learn are essential qualities that every entrepreneur should possess. They play a crucial role in an entrepreneur’s journey, as demonstrated by my personal experiences. Prior to winning the Total Startupper Award, I faced numerous rejections from various applications I had submitted. Receiving rejection letters had become a common occurrence, but I refused to lose hope and I approached each rejection as an opportunity to learn and grow. Consequently, by the time I applied for the Total Kenya Award, I had honed my skills and acquired valuable pitching experience; this newfound knowledge and resilience propelled me to secure the victory.

Perseverance is another crucial quality that an entrepreneur must possess. The path to success is often riddled with challenges, obstacles, and setbacks; it is the unwavering determination to see their vision come to fruition that distinguishes an entrepreneur. Despite the seemingly unbearable circumstances and overwhelming difficulties, an entrepreneur must keep the fire within themselves burning brightly. Maintaining the same level of passion and enthusiasm that was present at the inception of their business is vital. This unwavering dedication fuels the ability to navigate through adversity and find creative solutions when faced with seemingly insurmountable obstacles. It is through this tenacity and perseverance that entrepreneurs discover new opportunities and forge ahead, even in the face of adversity.

7.  Is there a person you are inspired by, i.e. an entrepreneur or a particular mentor?

Warren Buffett’s remarkable qualities of knowledge-seeking, perseverance, focus, and patience shine brightly as guiding lights in my own journey. His insatiable thirst for knowledge, unwavering perseverance in the face of adversity, laser-like focus on core principles, and unparalleled patience in pursuing long-term goals inspire me to push beyond boundaries, continuously learn, remain resilient, stay focused, and cultivate the patience needed to achieve lasting success.

8.  Finally, what would you suggest to a new-born entrepreneur?

My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to begin their journey by clearly identifying their target market and the needs they aim to address; this foundational step is critical for setting the stage for success. Furthermore, it is important for entrepreneurs to understand that realizing their vision takes time. The initial stages of any venture often come with turbulence and challenges, necessitating patience, perseverance, continuous learning, and unwavering focus. Throughout the entrepreneurial journey, it is common for failures and setbacks to arise. In these moments, it is crucial for entrepreneurs to resist the temptation of pursuing seemingly better or more immediately successful opportunities. They must recognize that pursuing alternative paths also requires resources, time, and patience to reach fruition. Remaining steadfast in their vision is paramount.

To navigate the ups and downs of entrepreneurship, it is beneficial for individuals to surround themselves with the right mentors. These mentors provide guidance, support, and valuable insights that make the journey more bearable. Additionally, seeking opportunities for continuous learning is vital. The process of learning opens up the mind to new knowledge and wisdom, equipping entrepreneurs with the tools needed to weather the storms they encounter.

Learn more about BioAfriq Energy:


Facebook page: @Bioafriq Energy