BY VICTOR ADAR
Born in Kimende in Kiambu County, Beth Koigi got interested in water issues while in Chuka University four years back when students on campus would get brown water from the taps.
Motivated by her experiences, she is currently revolutionizing access of water especially for off-grid communities through disruptive technology thanks to the concept of harvesting water from air.
The youthful entrepreneur and water expert could not imagine that one day she will start a water filtration start up to fix the perennial water problem not only in her own campus, but also beyond. She teamed up with Ms Clare Sewell, a financial strategy consultant with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Management, and Anastasia Kaschenko, to set up Majik Water firm.
While Ms Koigi holds a Master’s degree in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi (class of 2015), Ms Sewell who also runs her own start-up in Malawi brings on the table 10 years’ experience of strategy consulting. Ms Kaschenko on the other hand serves as the firm’s chief technology officer, and holds a BSc in environment from Trent University and also does research and development at tech firm Carbon Upcycling Technologies. But that was then. Today, Ms Koigi’s co-founders now work for Majik Water on a full time basis. And with innovation being at the heart of everything that the water-harvesting specialists do, things are clicking. If you have air, they say, you can have drinking water. But is it sustainable?
“We are creating a new source of affordable, clean drinking water for water scarce communities,” Koigi says. “Previously I had worked on water filtration start-up and had seen first hand the effects of water contamination but it is even harder if you do not have water at all to filter. Due to climate change and other reasons, the world is becoming more water stressed and the UN estimates that 1.8 billion people in regions will be living with drought.”
While there seems to be no end to the number of individuals going into businesses as opposed to seeking for permanent employment, perhaps because it is believed that without substantial capital, nothing good can come out of an investment, the co-founder of Majik Water, Ms Koigi, saw an opportunity rather than a challenge. Hers has been a journey full of blessings.
The entrepreneurship bug bit her some two years back when she applied for the Global Solutions Program at Singularity at the Silicon Valley in the US where she met her co-founders Clare Sewell and Anastasia Kaschenko.
A good example of how teaming up with like minded people to come up with a solution to what has been affecting the masses can go a long way, Koigi is one smart entrepreneur who is capturing the market today by simply providing working solutions with social impact. And it may not come as a surprise that awards are flying their way.
Last year, the firm won a cash prize of Sh1.75 million (15,000 euros) at the EDF Pulse Africa Award, an amount that went towards the completion of their prototype. This year, they were in second position at the MIT Water Innovation Award where they got a cash prize of Sh754, 500 ($7,500). In addition, Majik Water was among the nine companies that had a chance to pitch at the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME), a body that backed the ISHOW Innovation Showcase that took place in Nairobi in May.
“Mostly we are getting our resources through boot strapping from awards but we will start fundraising from investors… We have won awards such as EDF pulse Africa awards, oxford innovation fair and MIT water innovation award. No bank loan and no investor yet,” she says.
Although Majik Water is still a prototype (at testing stage), it seems, it will likely lower the cost of clean water at a time when most households especially the ones in remote areas are unable to afford purified bottled water. It is interesting that the venture has taken off and is just strong enough that at the moment it is seeking for a chief technical officer (an executive level position that’s popular as a CTO) who has mechanical, electrical, mechatronics or material engineering background with experience in building hardware prototypes.
It is better to place emphasis on the “what motivates you” especially before going full throttle into the business of offering unique services – it is even better to know what it takes to get there.
“Most businesses fail because we often fall in love with our idea and do not want to change. It is always good to take a step back, re-evaluate every bit of our business and most importantly do not get attached to your idea,” she says, pointing out that theirs is all of a hardware innovation and as such the product development cycle is longer and takes time,” adding that “Most of the times investors do not want to take a risk on an early stage company.”
Ms Koigi is optimistic that two to three years from now, the concept of Majik Water will be on a roll. It will “have fully manufactured products in the market” where it shall have established water bottling stations all around both rural and peri-urban arid and semi-arid regions. That Majik (Water) is basically an English word that’s smartly blended – Majic would mean wonderful, magnetic or captivating, you may wonder what inspired the choice, and the naming of the business “Majik Water”. Is it because of the fact that it has a punch, and can it entice customers?
“The name Majik water has a pun intention of magic in English but the true meaning is Maji for water and the K is for ‘kuvuna’ which means harvest,” Koigi explains, adding that their major target are people living in water stressed regions who do not have access to clean drinking water.