Africa ClimAccelerator Start-Up Spotlight: Zuhura Solutions

The street vending business is a major source of livelihood for many Kenyans. It also provides easy access to quick meals. Most Nairobi residents, no matter their socioeconomic status, enjoy all types of street food from local vendors. However, over 100,000 street food vendors in the city currently face serious economic and environmental constraints when it comes to keeping food warm in a sustainable way. Most use charcoal, which releases high levels of carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and pollutants.

This is where Zuhura Solutions comes in. The company, based in Nairobi, seeks to spur innovation in the food sector by providing reliable, clean and sustainable energy to marginalised groups in order to realise economic transformation, and ensure social and environmental change. Its mission is to improve the lives of these marginalised groups and contribute to climate change mitigation measures.

A street food vendor using the Halisi Trolley

Zuhura has introduced the Halisi Trolley, a solar-powered street-food vending cart that enables food to stay warm for longer by using an alternative clean-energy source. The trolley also has charging ports that the vendors can lease out to customers at an extra cost. 

Zuhura is able to subsidise the cost of making the trolleys by selling advertising space on the vending cart. The start-up also offers customised or modular versions of the Halisi Trolley and sells them in bulk.

The company takes into account the socio-economic status of the vendors and offers them a flexible pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) payment plan of $ 80 a month with a 10 per cent initial down-payment. It also connects the vendors with technicians who can quickly and conveniently service their trolleys.

The local community is at the core of the company’s solutions and products as it aims to elevate marginalised groups at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). Equitability, sustainability and affordability are the driving forces behind Zuhura’s mission. This is evident in all facets of its operations – from the materials chosen to the solutions developed.

The company’s Founder and CEO Benson Kibiti says that Zuhura is passionate about solving challenges in the food sector. The company has a team of five people who are based in Kenya and the US.

Zuhura has participated in several high-profile competitions for start-ups, including ASME I-SHOW 2020 (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers); and Thought for Food Challenge 2021 (TFF). “We were finalists in both ASME I-SHOW and TFF,” said Kibiti.

The company has also entered into partnerships with local incubators, including Gearbox Kenya and Kasper Technologies, to develop a viable product and conduct field tests with local vendors across Nairobi. With seed money raised, Zuhura will fund mass production of its trolley within the next few months to help curb the use of charcoal.

Zuhara has maximised the potential for profitability by using durable, high-quality materials. The trolleys have an overhead light so that vendors can sell for longer hours.

“These features support greater revenue generation and give vendors more autonomy and flexibility when it comes to their working hours,” said Kibiti.

“Once we go to the market, we will continue with our focus on youth and women employment, while also helping to promoting street-food vending as a dignified and viable profession,” he added.

By curbing the use of charcoal, Zuhura Solutions is enabling vendors to operate in a clean and safe work environment. The company also aims to drive demand for more nutritious foods. “Ultimately, we hope to decentralise the typical restaurant and help more people access quick and affordable meals on the go,” said Kibiti.

By the end of 2022, Zuhura Solutions wants to raise at least a $ 500,000 grant to build 1,000 Halisi Trolleys, fund operational expenses and purchase start-up manufacturing assets. It also wants to set up logistics for manufacturing and testing, as well as establish a robust sales and marketing plan in order to sell the Halisi Trolley in all parts of the country.

Zuhura Solutions was one of 15 start-ups selected to participate in the Africa ClimAccelerator, the first pan-African accelerator focused on scaling the most promising climate-focused innovations. The six-month programme was delivered by partner organisations GrowthAfrica and the Carbon Trust, supported by the Climate-KIC International Foundation and funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation GmbH (‘GIZ’) exclusively on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (‘BMZ’).

An original version of this article was published here on 5 April.