A young African innovator who turned an idea into a viable product

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StawiTurning an idea into a viable product is often scoffed at by those who say it’s just for dreamers. And you’re sneered at if you learn or read how to go about becoming an entrepreneur because “you may as well give up before you start”.

Eric Muthomi, 26 years old, came up with an idea to process bananas from smallholder farmers in rural Kenya and process them into banana flour. He started his business Stawi Foods and Fruits after studying law and completing short courses in enterprise management.

The Stawi banana flour, available in 400 g packs (1 kg and 5 kg are still to be introduced), is used for baking, making Kenya’s staple dish ugali and baby food as well as other products. His website highlights the nutritional value of bananas and healthy cooking recipes using his product.

Entrepreneurs like Muthomi excel at identifying business opportunities and exploiting them through focused planning and determination. In a market dominated by international food products, Muthomi identified banana flour, which is a unique product for the market. He also wants to expand opportunities by exporting to international markets like Europe.

All entrepreneurs know what it takes to succeed, especially in the face of obstacles and setbacks. Muthomi has had to deal with the challenges of licensing requirements needing several approvals and the high cost of electricity power.

Successful entrepreneurs know when to supplement their know-how and expertise and how to use their charisma or enthusiasm to attract people to their ideas – employees, customers and partners.

As opportunity seekers, entrepreneurs intuitively know that wealth begins in the form of an idea and takes organised plans to develop, test and implement a product or service.

Where do entrepreneurs find ideas? One source is spontaneous ideas that come while in the shower, driving or walking. Another source is an inside idea where you find some gap or concept people have overlooked in your community or work environment. Muthomi, growing up in his home community of Meru, knew the ins and outs of banana production. Yet another source of ideas is a deliberate idea where you use idea generation tools, personal brainstorming or a market opportunity grid to spot opportunities.

Once you have a great idea that solves a compelling problem or need, the next step is to turn your idea into a business model. This involves working out how your business will generate revenue and profit. You also need to test your idea by taking it to at least 10 prospective customers and finding out how many would buy it.

As an entrepreneur you have to make things happen despite uncertainty and setbacks. Marc Andreessen who co-founded Netscape (sold for $4.2 billion), Opsware and Ning, says “… in a start-up, absolutely nothing happens unless you make it happen”. Muthomi turned his idea into a successful product through making his flour business happen: “Do not wait for things to be perfect for you to work on your goal. Start with the little you have. I had no money. I borrowed capital for the business from my family.”

By being action orientated, Muthomi has turned his idea into reality.

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