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 Nairobi-based start-up seeks to spur innovation in the food sector by providing reliable, clean and sustainable energy to marginalised groups in order to support economic transformation, and ensure social and environmental change. Its mission is to improve the livelihoods of street food vendors while contributing to climate change mitigation measures.

A street food vendor using the Halisi Trolley

Founder and CEO Benson Kibiti 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. 

Kibiti was one of 15 entrepreneurs selected from an application pool of nearly 700 start-ups who participated in the Africa ClimAccelerator – first pan-African accelerator focused on scaling the most promising climate-focused innovations.

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 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. 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 has 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 lamp so that vendors can sell for longer hours into the night.

“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.”

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 aims 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.

The Africa ClimAccelerator was designed to enhance the development and deployment of innovative technology to accelerate climate-positive business solutions for a net-zero Africa. From January to June 2022, 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.