Elizabeth Gikebe is determined, persistent and relentless. She is also the winner of a $20 000 cash prize in the African Development Bank’s 2020 AgriPitch competition.
The founder of Kenyan-based social enterprise Mhogo Foods tells Food For Afrika that the continent-wide competition gave her wings in a sector that is still dominated by men.
How did you hear about AgriPitch?
I first attended the AgriPitch when it was held in Côte d’Ivoire in 2018. I attended as a delegate. In 2019, I applied [for the AgriPitch Competition] but my application didn’t go through. Last year, I tried and it was successful.
It was quite a journey and during all the time I have been working on the same cassava project, working on the same [business] model. It is a big lesson and it tells me to keep on trying, keep on trying. It is not like the people who are selecting have a problem with you or a problem with your company – it is just time. With a lot of persistence you can get what you are looking for. [The competition] showed me that everything has its time. It is like everything is planned to happen when it happens.
So, then, what do you think was different about your start-up this year when you applied and advanced in the competition?
Throughout, the company has grown and I have learned a lot since the first time I attended the AgriPitch competition. The company has grown. I have grown personally in the business and I know exactly what I am looking for. In 2018, back then, if I was given the same amount of money, I couldn’t make the impact that I am going to make with this money today. A lot has changed and I think it is a good time to get this AgriPitch award because this is the time Mhogo Foods is expanding.
How did it feel when you heard the African Development Bank announce your name as winner?
I didn’t actually expect to win and I had already put myself in that mindset that, whatever happens, I did my best and maybe I will try again some other time. Being in the Top 9 was actually a big step. But when I heard my name I was so excited. We are getting closer to the fundraising goal of $300 000 and might get to that by the end of the year. We’ve been able to get a zero percent loan and we are still working on other potential grants.
You won the women-empowered businesses category. Should there be a gender category?
Yes, there should be that kind of category. You can see in the other categories, it was only men who won those categories. We had more men in the competition, as opposed to women, right? The women-empowered businesses category gives women that opportunity to express themselves and be able to compete amongst themselves and be seen in the midst of all these men who are around.
What did you do with the $20 000 prize?
I purchased a package automation machine. $15 000 went to the packaging automation system, the remaining $5 000 was used to set it up and other logistics just to get it here. So, it had a big impact, and that means our production capacity will increase. We had a production bottleneck in the packaging in that our packaging is still being done by hand.