Across the world, at least everyone aspires to make it in life at a young age, even better, stack up enough money while still young. Now imagine how you would feel if you made over Ksh40 million at the age of 19. That is the story of Joel Mwale, an entrepreneur who founded SkyDrop Enterprises.
Despite remaining little known in Kenya, Mwale was well known internationally and won a couple of awards. In 2012, he sold SkyDrop – a rainwater harvesting and purification project that he founded at the age of 16 to an Israeli-owned firm for $500,000 (approximately Ksh42.5 million at that time).
At the age of 16, while still a student at Friends School Kamusinga High School, Mwale came up with an idea that saved the lives of over 5,000 people in Kitale Town by enabling them access clean drinking water. He got the idea for the company while he was hospitalized with dysentery after drinking contaminated water.
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As he laid in bed hospitalised, the young entrepreneur thought of how he would provide access to safe drinking water for the community and the school.
Armed with the knowledge he had gained in physics class, Ksh8,000 savings and a little help from volunteers, Mwale built a borehole in one of the community’s farmlands. He installed a pump that successfully provides water for hundreds of households.
Unfortunately, the young entrepreneur was forced to drop out of school for lack of school fees. He resorted to working to raise his school fees and also help his family earn a living.
The idea for SkyDrop came to maturation when Mwale was caught in a rainstorm.
“I remember it was in April during one of the heavy rain seasons in Kitale. I was just walking as the rain poured and happened to spot a closed yoghurt shop. Next to it was a water tank that was storing the rainwater from the gutters of the roof.
“I thought to myself: can’t I trap this rainwater, store it in a reservoir, purify it and then sell it to the public?”
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After agreeing on the location, he sought out find a machine that could purify rainwater, however, he established that it was very expensive. He then approached local banks and NGOs for funding but was unsuccessful.
Mwale later approached his mother over the sale of their 20 acre piece of land. She was initially against it but finally gave in. Armed with proceeds from the sale, Mwale acquired a purifying machine for Ksh430,000 and paid for the cost of operation to produce drinking water.
“We used to harvest rain water and focus on production during wet season. During the dry spells, we would market our product.”
The company sold half a litre of water at Ksh17, and a litre at Ksh31. On the first day of operation, they sold 10 bottles owing to competition from already established water bottlers.
However, with persistent production and product marketing, the company recorded an annual sale of Ksh25.6 million in 2011 according to Mwale. He revealed that he used part of the money he gained from the sales to replace the family land he sold to fund his business adventure.
The success of the project and other events led to the establishment of SkyDrop Enterprises which has since won global awards.
SkyDrop processes drinking water for sale across western Kenya and into Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Mwale won a Google award (Zeitgeist Young Minds 2012) for being one of the Top 10 Brightest Young Minds in the World. Thereafter, he spent a lot of time in USA’s Silicon Valley. He spent time with people like Larry Page, the co-founder and chief executive of Internet search engine giant Google, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, best known for inventing the world wide web.
He was named finalist at the Anzisha Prize walking away with Ksh3 million and admission to the African Leadership Academy in South Africa.
Mwale co-founded Gigavia.com, a company he says will likely offer solutions for how institutions can deliver education materials and also provide a platform for veteran entrepreneurs to mentor youngsters.
The company has offices in Kenya, South Africa and in Silicon Valley. It currently employees tens of programmers and administrative staff.
In 2013, he sold his 60 per cent shareholding in SkyDrop to a group of Israeli investors for over Ksh40 million. By that time, the company was generating annual revenues of Ksh51.5 million with 74 employees.
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