Uji Business in Kenya: BY WANGARI KAMANGA: After a long day at a call centre, Kendi Kimathi, could not imagine returning to that job for another day.
The Nutrition and Dietetics graduate from the Kenya Methodist University says: “I was completely exhausted. I was stuck in a place of monotony. I was demoralised and the fallacy of money at the end of the month was not working for me. I desired that excitement of waking up in the morning to go to work.”
With no immediate plans, Ms Kendi quit her job with the intent to focus on her career. She started looking for a job in line with nutrition and dietary.
“Finding a suitable satisfying job is almost impossible today. When I got tired of moving from hospital to clinic, I would return to my mother’s house to brew porridge, mostly it was for a sick relative who was in hospital at the time. I learnt how to brew porridge when I was younger, an art I was taught by my mother. It was my hobby and I enjoyed it.”
With nothing to lose and a desire to make a living, Kendi decided to try and make a business out of her hobby. “Starting off was not easy, I was still living with my mother and, therefore, took over her kitchen to brew the porridge. I used the Sh20,000 I had saved to kick-start the business, I used the money to buy the grains and some equipment.
Not only was this a sole proprietorship, I was the sole employee. That formed the foundation for the establishment of my company – Uji Benda Enterprises in 2015. I would wake up to make the porridge, and later that day look for market. My first clients were my friends and family members, but eventually, through social media, I started to build more clients.”
Kendi, the third child in a family of four children, says Uji Benda initially started off as a company that deals with the production and supply of fermented porridge made out of two types of millet; pearl and finger millet, mixed into a proportion of 1:1 respectively and ground to its finest. The grounded millet is then added to water and left for one to five days to ferment.
The food and beverage company then expanded to supplying milk.
With a client base of about 500 customers and eight employees, Kendi sells between 80 – 100 litres of porridge a week at a cost of Sh200 (cooked) and Sh150 (raw), a cost she says she arrived at through subtracting her expenses in order to remain competitive and sustainable. Her three-year enterprise has gotten her numerous awards and accolades.
“I get most of my customers through referrals and social media. My main clients are pregnant and lactating mothers and people aged 30 and above, as well as young families. Being a woman and a youth, pursuing a business that is socially out of the norm greatly inspires and empowers others.
“To have the ability to show people that you can look for opportunities everywhere and anywhere is of essence to a struggling unemployed population that is currently at a rate of 60 per cent. But it is only when I won two awards at the Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry-Women in Business Gala Dinner 2017; Best Innovation for Generation and First Runners-up, Best Youth category that I realized the kind of impact my business had on society,” she says.
Kendi says entrepreneurship is fulfilling. “You categorically and strategically plan your daily activities to maximise on making profits.
“It also gives you the mind space to come up with innovative ideas to achieve business goals, long term objectives and remain competitive. As an entrepreneur, you broaden your knowledge.
It provides the opportunity to gain more skills as compared to a specific task orientation. When I was starting off, I was in production, I become the production manager; when I get paid, I become an accountant; when I am at a networking event, I am the CEO. Wearing different hats grows an individual immensely,” says Kendi.
When starting her uji business in Kenya, Kendi faced various challenges, including the tedious registration of a Food and Beverage Company, lack of sufficient capital to expand her business, inefficient marketing tools to build her brand and the inability to advance the trade.
“In every job, there are those hindrances that try to bring you down, but if you know what you want to achieve, then you can overcome. I continue to seek knowledge to grow my business, with little experience in business management, it is only advancing my knowledge base and building adjacent business networks, which will facilitate the growth of my enterprise,” she says.
“My focus remains to build a nutrition brand. With the increase in diet-related health complications like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases, it is a necessity for this food and beverage industry to be engaged with nutritionists, to ensure our products remain beneficial to our clients and the society as a whole. My number one goal is to provide a healthy alternative to breakfast as well as teach people the importance of porridge. There are many misconceptions about porridge that I would like to change,” says Kendi.
While her mother remains her source of inspiration, Kendi also looks up to famous women entrepreneurs including Flora Mutahi, Founder of Melvins Tea and Tabitha Karanja, Founder of Keroche Breweries. “These are women who ventured in male-dominated fields and were victorious. That is the path for me, it is an example of who I want to become,” Kendi concludes on her uji business in Kenya.