An entrepreneur with a passion for improving lives with solar products, has set her eyes on expanding her business, thanks to mentorship from Energy 4 Impact’s Women Integration into Renewable Energy (WIRE) Value Chains project.
Jane Kioko’s first job as a marketer in a solar company inspired her to establish her own business, Silver Investments, in January 2016, selling solar products to remote off-grid villages. Based in Tala, Machakos County in Eastern Kenya, Jane sells lamps, solar panels, converters and batteries to homes, businesses and institutions, some as far as 20 kilometres from her shop.
Just a year later, Energy 4 Impact approached Jane to participate in WIRE, a two-year project that forms part of the Partnership on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Renewables (wPOWER), an initiative by the US Department of State to empower women entrepreneurs across East Africa, Nigeria and India to deliver access to clean energy. WIRE and wPOWER develop and strengthen the entrepreneurial skills of women who produce, manufacture, import, distribute, promote, supply or retail improved cookstoves, briquettes, biogas and solar products, such as lanterns and solar home systems.
Energy 4 Impact supports Jane with business and technology coaching, market development advice, networking and exposure to new products, partners and markets. The organisation also helps Jane with strategies to overcome some of the challenges to further business growth.
Many of the remote villages Jane sells to are not accessible by motor vehicle. Energy 4 Impact is encouraging her to reach out to potential clients through road shows and exhibitions on market days and to raise awareness of her products on radio and other media. “We will assist Jane with brochures and contact cards to give out during these events,” says Quinter Oginga, a field officer at Energy 4 Impact.
Lack of awareness and trust in the quality of solar products remain a major challenge for Jane’s business, as markets have been flooded with cheap, low-quality knock-offs. Marketing events are also effective platforms for raising awareness of certified quality products. Energy 4 Impact shares with Jane best practices in consumer education and product demonstration, which will in turn help her grow sales and profitability.
Jane currently both markets and supplies her products herself, which leaves her stretched. Energy 4 Impact is helping her develop a business growth plan which will recommend how to bring in additional staff, increase product stock and acquire a motorbike to transport her goods. They will also advise on securing a loan to finance the growth.
“We encouraged Jane to diversify as it ensures cash flow to support the business,” says Quinter. Jane now also provides money transfer, solar accessories such as car batteries and gas cylinders.
Jane believes that her direct and personal approach is behind her business success. She has built on the contacts she created with local women’s groups and her biggest clients are individual group members who pay for their solar products through credit from their table banking initiatives (a group funding method where members save and borrow directly from their savings).
“I chose to work with women groups since their table banking ensures that they have money to pay for the products they buy from me,” says Jane. “Local women are embracing this concept and new groups are formed almost every day.
“I also sell to schools and local farmers and there is interest from customers in other solar applications, from water pumping, by local farmers, to inquiries for high wattage solar panels and solar home systems. I am excited by the potential to grow the business I love with the expert guidance from Energy 4 Impact” she adds.
“Jane’s hard work and sharp eye for emerging business opportunities will propel her businesses,” said Godfrey Sanga, WIRE Project Manager at Energy 4 Impact. “Energy 4 Impact will help her grow her business, drawing on resources provided under the WIRE project and others.”
Energy 4 Impact nominated Jane to attend a United Nations sponsored workshop in Gabon on women entrepreneurship and sustainable energy in Africa which brought together women entrepreneurs from 16 African countries, development partners and stakeholders working with gender and sustainable, energy issues. “I learnt a lot in terms of business operations and renewable energy technologies, as well as expanding my network of contacts,” she says. “I now plan to diversify further by marketing improved cookstoves, briquettes and solar pumps.”
Jane’s business success means that more people will have access to improved energy services and potentially improve their livelihoods and home lives. “Solar products can improve productivity in farming, businesses and households. Families get access to information through television and radio and children can study after dark,” says Godfrey.