Meet The Entrepreneur: Kimberly Mwende, Transforming Access to Purified Water in Kenya

By Fiona Njagi

Africa is the only continent in the world where more women than men venture into entrepreneurship, a phenomenon that has not received as much attention as it should.

According to a report by the world bank, women in Africa make up 58% of the continent’s self-employed population. “Growing up in Kenya I had several female entrepreneurs to look up to. It was natural that I’d follow in their footsteps, say’s Kimberly Mwende, “I knew I wanted to start a business that would benefit my community and provide employment opportunities to other young women and men in Kenya”

Kimberly Mwende, “Kim” as she’s affectionately known by her customers, and employees is a young businesswoman from Nairobi, Kenya. In 2020, Kim partnered with Untapped Global to become a water ATM franchisee.

Through Untapped’s Smart Asset financing model, Kim set up a water purification unit using cutting-edge IOT technology that provides real-time data on sales and usage. Now with three employees, Kim’s business provides purified drinking water to the residents of Langata, a densely populated working-class neighborhood in Nairobi.

We visited Kimberly at her Ovive purified water kiosk for a socially distanced interview:

What inspired your move into entrepreneurship?

Since I was 15, my dream has always been to start my own business. I wanted to provide a service that would positively impact my community.

Initially, I looked into whether my idea to provide purified water existed, who my competitors might be, then I jumped right in. We often overthink what starting a business entails but, it’s best to take action and dive in headfirst.

You are passionate about improving water quality and access in Kenya. Why did you choose this mission?

I grew up in Syokimau, a residential area 20 kilometers outside Nairobi. Due to the lack of infrastructure, most households in the area had no access to piped water and often relied on weekly water deliveries from informal water vendors.

The water was often overpriced and the source was at best, questionable. You had no idea where it came from, a borehole, or a river contaminated by sewage runoff. We couldn’t trust it. So, in 2010 my family and I decided to sink a borehole to supply water in the area. Currently, we supply water to over 100 residents in Syokimau.

In urban areas, the water infrastructure caters for the planned, but not the unplanned, neighborhoods. For those in planned neighborhoods, we have access to piped water, but the reliable flow of water varies from area to area.

Though Nairobi has all the trappings of a modern city, water access remains a challenge in densely populated neighborhoods, and safe drinking water is still inaccessible to many. I want to change that.

You started your water franchise at the height of COVID19. How has the pandemic affected your business?

I think this was the best time to start a water purification business. COVID19 has heightened awareness on health, and the need for safe drinking water that is also cost-friendly. I’m glad that we can offer both to our customers.

What do the next 5 years look like for your business?

I’d love to open more purified water ATM sites in Nairobi and become a master franchisee. I’d also like to educate other aspiring entrepreneurs who are hoping to start similar businesses.

I’ve been doing this for a little under a year, but I’ve picked up some great tools and best practices such as; how to build a great team, quality control, and marketing your product. I’d love to create a platform to share this knowledge with other entrepreneurs in the sector.

What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

There’s a great sense of fulfilment in bringing an idea to life, especially if it has a positive impact on the community.

Additionally, knowing that I have employees, customers, and investors depending on me challenges me to do my best.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned so far running your business?

I’ve learned that business is all about offering great value to your customers. For me, that is making sure we’re offering the safest drinking water to our customers at the best price.

Additionally, implementing IoT for smart water management is the best decision I’ve made for my business. Currently, my water purification unit uses IoT to track sales remotely, flag that the water level is not holding at its standard level, and provide real-time data on usage. It’s insanely efficient and completely different from what I had while managing the borehole.

What advice do you have for aspiring young entrepreneurs in Kenya?

Entrepreneurship is hard, but nothing good comes easy. If you feel a burning desire to do something, go for it.

Based in San Francisco with teams in East Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe, Untapped Global creates opportunity by connecting frontier market innovators to global investors through its Smart Asset Financing™ platform that provides CAPEX financing for revenue-generating assets all over Africa.

Would you like to set up a purified water ATM franchise in Kenya? Reach out to us at kimberly@untapped-inc.com

Untapped creates opportunity by connecting frontier market innovators to global investors.