April 13, 2023
Sometimes, God speaks to us when we least expect it.
His unforgettable “quiet voice” illuminated a new career path for Cherie Kihato, which officially took off in 2018. That year, she launched Savannah Space, an online marketplace that sold furniture and home decor crafted by locally sourced Nairobi, Kenya, artisans. In 2019, she enrolled in the Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy, an intensive, 4-month MBA alternative designed to accelerate training for entrepreneurs with businesses in the seed to growth stage. Amazingly, Kihato then competed in and won the 2019 Sinapis Business Competition, along with a USD $10,000 prize to invest in her business.
Fast forward three years, and today, between a retail showroom in the Lavington Mall and two online catalogs of handsomely woven rugs and elegantly crafted furniture, Savannah Space showcases the work of 15 local artisan companies. Kihato’s suppliers include mkeka (decorative mat) weavers, soapstone carvers, seagrass basket weavers, woodworkers, welders, and rug weavers. Last year alone, the business sustained 41 jobs and created 49 new ones. With every job in Kenya supporting an estimated five people, Kihato’s company impacts not only her employees but hundreds of other people, too.
We recently interviewed Cherie Kihato to learn more about her entrepreneurship journey and how Sinapis’ Kingdom business and discipleship training continues to impact her life and the lives of others.
Here’s what we learned:
This interview is lightly edited for clarity.
Sinapis: Cherie, can you share a brief bit about your life's journey and when you first saw an opportunity to start a business like Savannah Space?
Cherie Kihato: I had recently moved back to Kenya after university and had started my career as an intern in development work. I believed that development work was what I was going to do with my life but ended up not getting a full-term position. (One day), while sitting down wondering what my next steps were, I heard a quiet voice saying ‘you’re going to start a furniture business, it's going to be made in Kenya, and you’re going to call it Savannah Space.’ It was the most random thing I’d heard, but I know it was God speaking to me. From there, I started working on how I could do this and the ball just kept on rolling. I hosted some fairs where informal sector artisans could sell their items and saw that there was a market for made-in-Kenya home pieces. Sinapis helped me formalize this idea into a full-fledged business.
Sinapis: How has Sinapis offered you helpful support since you won their Business Competition in 2019?
Cherie Kihato: Sinapis has offered immense support. First, it is very beneficial to be part of the alumni network. There’s so much support and community between previous Sinapis students — it’s incredible. Second, everyone on the Sinapis team genuinely keeps up with you and wants to know where they can offer help. I have regular meetings with some of the Sinapis team (and receive) random calls just to check up on me. Sinapis is also helping me in my fundraising journey by demystifying the process of looking for funders.
Sinapis: From a business standpoint, what was one of Savannah Space's challenges when you enrolled in the Sinapis program?
Cherie Kihato: Financial modeling. During the business plan competition prep week, I really got to understand how important financial planning and projections are to a business … It really helps with setting goals and understanding what is financially needed to achieve them.
Sinapis: From a community leadership perspective, what was most valuable about your Sinapis training?
Cherie Kihato: One of our trainers once mentioned that to impact others with God’s love, you don’t necessarily have to outwardly convince them in words to accept Jesus as their Savior. If you continue to do God’s work, continuously give God the glory for what He does for you and treat people with love and kindness, they will automatically wonder why you are a certain way and maybe get curious enough to ask about it. I’ve learned that actions speak a lot louder than words, so make sure your actions reflect God’s love and purpose for you.
Sinapis: From a Christian leadership perspective, what was most valuable about your Sinapis training?
Cherie Kihato: The lessons on Kingdom Business. So many times, we are taught to separate our faith from our business. My faith is a big part of my life and, therefore, my business. Sinapis always encourages that. This is something I really appreciated Sinapis for doing.
Sinapis: Can you share a story of how one of your vendors has been empowered through your company?
Cherie Kihato: Oh gosh, wow, this is my favorite part of the business — when we see people’s lives changed. One of my vendors has expanded his workshop TWICE because of working with us. He started with one employee, now has ten, and may need to expand his team soon. The women who weave our rugs have also been impacted by working with us. During the worst period of the pandemic, all their orders to make rugs were coming from Savannah Space. I had a conversation with them recently where they thanked Savannah Space for keeping them working through the pandemic and making sure they were able to feed their families with the income they get from weaving … economic security was at risk for a lot of informal sector workers. I am very happy we were able to do that for them.
Sinapis: What advice would you give young entrepreneurs who may just be launching their own businesses today?
Cherie Kihato: I think one thing that's important and that I’m still learning is not to get too emotionally attached to your business. Yes, it's important, and it may even be what God put you on this earth to do, but it is not everything. Your business is only part of your identity and not the whole. There is a lot more that God put in you that is valuable and loved.
Sinapis: Thank you, Cherie, your example and leadership will be a beacon for many who read this!
To see more of Savannah Space’s locally made rugs and furniture, visit SavannahSpace.com.
To learn more about Sinapis’ Entrepreneur Academy, the 4-month MBA-like program Cherie Kihato completed, as well as additional dynamic entrepreneur-training opportunities offered by Sinapis, visit www.Sinapis.org.
The team God has called to serve at Sinapis works hard every day to help Kingdom entrepreneurs like Cherie Kihato flourish in their calling and grow their businesses. We offer world-class business training to entrepreneurs in all stages of their careers — but our work doesn’t stop there. Our added discipleship focus guides entrepreneurs on how to put God at the head of their businesses, how to model and extend God’s love through investing in employees, how to faithfully best serve customers, and how to impact and transform local communities. And this is just a glimpse of what we do. Our passion is to train tens of thousands of entrepreneurs like Cherie Kihato in Nairobi, Kenya, in East Africa, and around the world. Join us!