Why did you start Uzuri K&Y?
The story goes way back. Since I was a young girl I always wanted to do something that I was passionate about, create something. As I grew up, the idea grew with me. In 2013, I felt it was the right time to embark on the entrepreneurship journey, though I was still a student at Creative design university. I started attending entrepreneurship programs just to gain the skills I needed to run a business. It began as a story of passion and it still is.
What do you do at Uzuri K&Y?
We are an African inspired eco-friendly shoe brand with a mission to brand Africa as an origin for sustainable footwear. Creating jobs is at the heart of our business and also making sure that we are not just in business for money but creating something that will impact people’s lives for years and benefit our community. Our business is located outside the city and the reason is that we want to impact people who do not access opportunities similar to the people living in the city.
What’s it like being an entrepreneur in Africa today?
It is an exciting time to be an entrepreneur in Africa today but also very difficult and the reason is that we are laying the foundation for entrepreneurship in the continent. We are creating the future businesses of Africa, we are creating an environment to do business in Africa, a reference. Unlike us, future entrepreneurs will have a place to start from because there is another African company that did it and it is possible. I am one of the youngest entrepreneurs in Africa and I can tell you for a fact that when I started Uzuri K&Y the business industry with Rwanda as my reference point, had no locally created companies. We depended on imports from outside Africa, we didn’t have a lot of authentically made products for Africa by Africa.
How was the application process for the Africa Netpreneur prize like for you?
This is a fun question. I sent in my application like a day before or the same day as the deadline for the application. I learned about the application in good time. While going through the application questions I wasn’t so sure that my business was eligible for such a competition. I wasn’t sure what to say. I remember opening my application every single day trying to figure out how I was going to tell my story in a way that people understand, I was careful. The entire journey was fun.
Throughout the process of applying did it ever occur to you that you would be among the top 10?
No! I didn’t think I would make it, we had no idea that we would make it to the top 10, it was a great honor to even be considered.
How has being a part of ANPI impacted you and your business?
I was nervous especially in the last days before the final pitching. Everyone wanted to be among the top 3. The entire experience boosted my confidence, especially after the main pitching. The experience also challenged me to be a better leader, I now understand my business better and I can easily tell my story in a way that people can truly understand what we do, I am more inspired to work even harder to excel as a business. ANPI was a breaking point for myself and my business. As a business we realised that we do not have to remain stuck where we are, we can grow even bigger. The platform was huge. More people got to learn about the business, even people who already knew about our business before got to understand what we do even better. It has also changed the way people look at our business, people have more respect for our business, they now know that we don’t just make shoes we make shoes with a purpose.
What was your experience when you interacted with the ANPI team?
When we came to Nairobi for the semi-final pitch event we worked directly together with the ANPI team, we were working hard preparing to pitch and the ANPI team was there to support each one of us. They were very responsive and helpful, the team was sure of what you were doing. I honestly don’t know how they do it. I felt like the team was rooting for everybody and I loved that. You made us all feel like winners. I had a great stay in Nairobi all because of the support that was provided.
How would you define Kevine?
That’s a really hard question, but I would say Kevine is a strong, independent, young entrepreneur who is willing to go far and work hard to create something meaningful to impact people. She is also very passionate and she is looking forward to being one of the biggest entrepreneurs not just in Africa but also in the world. She is very ambitious as well.
What do you do for fun?
I started playing tennis at the end of last year which I love. I love boxing as well, swimming and spending time with my little niece.
What advice would you give to startup founders who are looking forward to applying for ANPI in the coming years?
I would tell them to be less nervous about it and to just trust the process because it’s a very honest and open process. I would also advise them to be humble and more confident about their product. I feel I should have been more confident.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are building businesses in Africa?
The advice I would give to entrepreneurs in Africa is to try and solve the challenges that we have today and not copy the businesses that have been done in Silicon Valley or anywhere in Europe for example. Our continent is full of challenges so my advice to entrepreneurs is to be excited to solve the challenges for the people in the communities that you come from. The money will come.