For many Kenyans, America is a land of opportunity – where they dream of employment, academic achievement and enjoying the fruits of technological advancement, innovations and entrepreneurship.
But the opposite is true for Mr Kyle Schutter, a biomedical engineering graduate, as of 2010, from Brown University, who is the founder and CEO of Takamoto Biogas Ltd.
While studying for his degree Mr Schutter used to cut grasses for his family and the neighborhood for payment during his secondary and university holidays. He saved every earning from the work.
In his final year at the university he participated in business proposal writing competition in the USA. He says that though he didn’t win, the judges were impressed with his ambitious proposal of starting a multimillion biogas company in Africa.
“A few days later the organization contacted me,” he recalls “that there was a person who was interested to offer the money for me to try the idea.” He thus received US $5, 000 which he topped up with his savings and family contributions to register Takamoto Biogas Ltd in Kenya.
The young entrepreneur says “I kept on thinking how I will be able to make money while offering solution in waste management”. To the young CEO “in nature nothing is wasted”. He feels that the rule of 3R (Reduce-Reuse-Recycle) is a natural reality – this makes him passionate about turning waste into an opporunity to generate income as well as conserving the environment.
His journey to Kenya reads like tales of yore, when missionaries and other explorers were fast setting their foot in the continent to explore Africa for the first time. His first landing was in Ghana, West Africa before finding his way to Uganda and Rwanda and finally settling in Kenya.
“When I got to Kenya I felt that this was a place to start a business,” he narrates with his eyes focused on some unknown but strategic horizon as he adjusts his spectacles, adding “the people are very interesting and there are such innovative banking systems.” He cites mobile money transfer as a banking technology the rest of the world need to embrace as it speeds up business transactions.
“Kenyans are interested in the ability of biogas to meet their energy needs – particularly farmers in remote areas of the country,” he says
Mr Schutter who had a dream of venturing into alternative energy since he was 16 years as he was growing up in Phoenixville, PA, United States says “I saw so many opportunities in Kenya.”
“Waste offers a lot of opportunities,” Mr Schutter said, pointing out that the Dandora dumping site’s organic waste can be transformed into fertilizer to improve food production in the country. “I am staying at Kibera, one of the biggest slums in Africa,” he explained moving to Kibira Plaza driven by the “aspiration to live where there are challenges that need practical solutions.”
Mr Schutter believes in hands on, team work operations. He does every bit of the work that is involved in the construction of a biodigester including connection of the lighting and cooking systems in collaboration with the staff he has so far recruited.
“Start a company with a vast vision,” he advises those who are dreaming of becoming entrepreneurs “start small and grow into a multimillion company.” Mr Schutter thinks that having ideas and passion should be the driving force of start up companies.
“Every day you should try something new to realise the big dream. Dream big but be ready to start small. My business plans needed US $1 million as start up capital, but since I was not able to raise the money I had to start from somewhere to reach my initial dream.”
Mr Schutter is aspiring to carry out intensive research into alternative energy towards his masters and PhD. He says vast knowledge is a bedrock on which business opportunities present themselves from every day encounters.
Further he says that biogas is becoming a reality in rural areas as farmers can access bank loans to put up a biogas system. “Many of them have succeeded,” he says.
I had an opportunity to accompany Mr Schutter to Kangema, Murang’a, Central Province, Kenya where the company is registering an amazing welcome among the villagers. It is noteworthy that he is making his presence felt in several parts of the country.
Within six months of operation, he has established a network of friends-cum-agents in educating the people on the importance of biogas such as: reducing green house gas emissions, employment creation, increased food productivity from bio-slurry and reduction of indoor air pollution.
Cow dung is used for biogas and the rest of the manure is channelled to fertilize farms. Enough biogas is produced to light the homestead and use for cooking. Mr Schutter is trying to create innovative biogas generators that can assist farmers in drawing water from wells in collaboration with incubation students at the University of Nairobi, School of Engineering, Fabrication Laboratory, Science Park.
Apart from one having a steady daily supply of at least 30kg of dung (he uses human waste and is exploring the use of chicken waste) – constructing a biogas system costs US $780. However, to motivate many Kenyans to embrace biogas, the Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP) has an in-built subsidy of US $278 payable to the farmer aiming to reduce the cost of construction and ensuring construction of quality biodigesters.
Nevertheless, the company has hit the ground in a time when Kenya is grappling with an energy crisis – a huge deficit of 3000 megawatts. Thus, alternative energy is being propagated by the government through the Ministry of Energy programme dubbed Kenya National Domestic Biogas Programe (KENDBIP) which is a component of African Biogas Partnership Programme funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Netherlands, managed jointly by Hivos (the Humanist Institute for Development Cooperation) and SNV (the Netherlands Development Organisation) and implemented by KENFAP.