Tech Startup Series: Illuminum Greenhouses

During the US-Africa Business Forum, we interviewed leaders of tech startups featured in the Sandbox about their experience with creating and growing a business in Africa. The Sandbox at the US-Africa Business Forum features a curated selection of young technology companies operating in Africa.

Illuminum Greenhouses
Nairobi, Kenya
Illuminum Greenhouses provides affordable greenhouses and drip irrigation systems equipped with solar-powered sensors to automate irrigation and allow farmers to monitor and control their greenhouses via SMS on their mobile phones.

Founders: Taita Ngetich (a 2016 YALI Mandela Washington Fellow) and Brian Bett

C.D. Glin, USADF president & CEO; Jack Leslie, USADF board chairman; Taita Ngetich, Illuminum Greenhouses co-founder; and Brian Bett, Illuminum Greenhouses co-founder at The U.S.-Africa Business Forum.

What was your “a-ha” moment that led you to create this business/product?

We were both born and raised up in agricultural families, and once we got to college, we decided to try out farming. We aimed at reducing redundancy that was translating into low productivity and high costs. This challenged us to come up with a solution that improves productivity and reduces the human factor involved in farming.

What was one of the more challenging moments of operating a business in Kenya?

Coming up with the right team that understands the bottlenecks and sees the bigger picture required to grow a company. This was evident throughout product development and hardware development stages.

What would you tell investors outside of Africa about building and operating a startup in Africa?

African startups have challenges greater than product development and finding distribution channels. These are problems that are not fixed by a simple business model process with standard problem identification. They are problems that touch on policy and the strength of institutions necessary for rolling out products. Government and social enterprises are key elements in this.

What has been your experience when it comes to raising funds? How do you articulate the opportunity you represent to investors?

For Illuminum, we have mainly raised funds through our own profits. Secondly, we have received various grant and prize monies. From our little experience, African startups are now more open to various funding opportunities whether those are venture capital or revenue share models. The global scaling picture has never been clearer to the mindset of African entrepreneurs.

What are your expansion plans? Will we be seeing you in any other African or international markets in the coming year?

We are currently in the early stages of expansion to the East African community. The Nigerian and Ghanaian market are our next targets and after that we believe it will be a rolling ball.

Any advice for other emerging entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa?

Fellow emerging entrepreneurs should understand the importance of owning a value chain. They may ask ‘where the innovation?’ It’s in the business model, not some fancy machine or tech, as we tend to think. This will drive the successful solutions Africa needs.

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