Scholarship Stories: James Nyamai - 2021 Business Competition Winner

November 22, 2021

James Nyamai graduated from our Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy in 2019 thanks to the Sinapis Scholarship Fund created and supported by our generous donors around the globe. James is the founder and CEO of Bioafriq Energy and Taliana Foods. At BioAfriq Energy, James and his team design and build hybrid solar dehydrators that combine solar and biomass burners to ensure the dehydrator works faster regardless of weather conditions. The result? Farmers reduce post-harvest losses and create value-added products. BioAfriq was a runner up winner in the 2019 Nairobi Innovation Challenge.

Taliana Foods manufactures gluten free flour products and was born from what James learned at Sinapis as he saw value added opportunities at BioAfriq Energy. James recently won the Sinapis Business Competition that included a $10,000 grant to invest in growing Taliana Foods.

We asked James questions about his experiences at Sinapis recently and have shared the interview below. You can also read more about the story behind BioAfriq Energy and James on our blog. >> James Nyamai - Bioafriq Energy

Why did you apply to join the 2019 Sinapis Scholarship class?

It was in the 2019 Nairobi Innovation Challenge that I first heard about Sinapis. The aspect of incorporating Kingdom business principles in entrepreneurship on a daily basis struck my attention. At the competition I got a 50% scholarship for the Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy program and the interest I had to learn how to incorporate Kingdom principles in my business led me to join the program and pay the 50% balance.

The knowledge and experience I got was far greater than what I thought I would receive having participated in various other programs in the past. It has been of great help to me. I joined the program when we were still in the middle of our market research and developing different prototypes at BioAfriq Energy. The coursework helped me define the key areas to focus on. It was during the program that we started making sales.

What lessons from the Sinapis program helped you start a new business (Taliana Foods) this year?

Starting Taliana Foods was more of a forward integration strategy for BioAfriq Energy. One of the main teachings of the Sinapis program is gaining a deeper understanding of your customers and their pain points. These pain points may create many opportunities, but ensuring you don't divert from your core business and lose focus is a priority. Our vision has been working towards zero post-harvest losses, and the birth of Taliana Foods was in line with the vision. We had worked with our target market for some time and identified a pain point that we thought we needed to address in an innovative way. We did a lot of research on the pain points and the potential of the market just like we learned during the Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy.

I also learned that I have a higher calling and am not in business for the sake of only meeting my own needs. I was impacted by a video in a Sinapis class about a gentleman who founded a company in America that has funded CITAM Church. Funding God’s work requires us to have resources, and I believe I have been called into business to acquire wealth for the Kingdom. I believe Taliana Foods will go to levels that BioAfriq Energy would not have gone to on its own, and all this will be to acquire resources for Kingdom work. I believe in due time God will guide me into the key areas He intends me to direct the resources as the businesses grow just as He has been guiding me in building up the enterprises.

Third, the knowledge from Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy, the Fast Track Accelerator, and the mentorship has been very important in helping me develop a business model that will see Taliana Foods prosper now and into the future while ensuring sustainability against competition.

What impact have your businesses had on the farmers you work with at BioAfriq Energy and Taliana Foods?

At BioAfriq Energy, we have installed 35 dehydrators at farms since the first dehydrator in August 2020. Being a new technology made in Kenya, we believe this is a huge achievement to have farmers and funding organizations believe in our technology and actually pay for it! It’s even more encouraging to receive positive feedback from the users and have NGOs come on board to empower the farmers that they support with the dehydrators.‍

The hybrid solar dehydrators have:

1. Helped reduce post-harvest losses for the farmers and processors by up to 50%.

2. Increased their annual revenues by creating value added products.

3. Increased annual earnings and reduced downtime for agricultural processors who used to stop their operations and lay-off employees for 6 months a year during the cold and rainy seasons because the solar dehydrators they were relying on could not function during these periods.

4. The fast dehydration has helped processors and farmers dehydrate more within a specific period. For instance a company that does moringa powder production (Botanical Treasures Limited) are now able to dehydrate the quantity they used to get in 3 days within 5 hours, increasing their monthly productivity by more than 10 times, and get a much higher quality product. We also have a farmer in Kwale County who used to get 1-3 Kg of dried mangoes every 2-3 days but is now able to get 30 kg of dried mangoes every 6 hours.

5. Taliana Foods will be increasing the impact by helping smallholder farmers access markets for the dehydrated products that will reduce their post-harvest losses by up to 80% and increase their annual incomes by up to 53%.

Has what you learned in the Sinapis Entrepreneur Academy helped you prepare for what business may be like as the pandemic continues to impact business for the foreseeable future? If yes, please give a few examples of what you will apply in 2022.

The knowledge from Sinapis has been quite helpful for us during the pandemic. Given my past experiences in previous businesses and others have had in Kenya, when it's election time most of us have learned to be a bit reserved with spending due to the uncertainty. This is currently happening in Kenya with our target market coupled with the economic effects of COVID -19.

For the dehydrators, we are still actively installing units, but we are aware that the political climate may change in different regions making it impossible for installations of the dehydrator to be carried out towards the election dates. We are strategizing and looking into how we can have technicians based in certain regions in the country to carry out installations of the dehydrators. So far we have three of them, one in Nakuru for the Rift Valley region, one in Machakos for the Eastern region, and another in Kwale for the coastal region. We are also working with Fargo Courier to facilitate distribution of the dehydrators to the technicians so they can install them for the customers.

With regard to Taliana Foods, I feel the demand during the election period will still be strong as gluten free grains are a staple food for those needing them. For the distribution channels to our B2B customers, we have Fargo Courier again taking care of our distribution and online selling platform through Fargo Courier where the customers can purchase the products online at the comfort of their homes. Wells Fargo is well positioned to maneuver different regions and have insurance cover for the products in transit should issues arise.