When Alex Mativo 21, saw the nuisance and hazard that the industries in Athi River were subjecting the public to via electronic disposing, he felt an urge to do something.
The Computer Science student at University of Nairobi teamed up with a colleague, Simon Mumo to rid the area and other parts of the lethal by-products. Last year in January E-Lab was formed and registered with the sole aim of turning e-waste into products that were useful to humanity.
Mativo and Mumo had sat down and come up with a plan to make cash while at the same time conserving the environment. The concept came about in late 2013 and was borne out of the university.
When armed with Sh500, the second year student purchased two old computers and then transformed the motherboards into fascinating jewellery. This initiative brought in the budding organisation a Sh20,000 returns much to the happiness of the youthful entrepreneurs.
E-Lab runs a lab in a godown at Athi River and they churn out fashion and interior products. Their products get sorted, cleaned and restructured to suit market trends. “It has not been easy, especially since we never got funding from anywhere.
We also had minimal experience in managing operations and personnel. But we had belief in our products nonetheless, which is why we are here today,” he says. Platforms of technology incubation and acceleration like Start-Up Garage did the trick for the company.
The firm uses recycled waste such as old computer parts, mobile phones, old washing machines and projectors to create solutions that were home-bred. The structure of E-Lab clearly marks out four areas that are well looked at; Business Lead, Design, Logistics and Campaign Awareness.
This enables every department to deliver in time in accordance with the company’s growth plan with Mativo taking an oversight role as the Chief Executive Officer. So far, E-Lab has made strategic partnerships with some of their mentors such as Gearbox, Roccac and Inkisha. E-lab currently pushes volumes of around 3,500 pieces monthly.
Earlier in the year, E-Lab was nominated in the Global Economic Week amongst the top 50 most innovative firms by the Global Entrepreneurship Network.
In July, they were featured in both international networks CNN and Al-Jazeera as Emerging Entrepreneurs in Africa, plus their jewellery line being featured in April at the New York Fashion Week.
“Orders are coming in fast and inquiries about franchising or selling rights to replicate the same in Nigeria, Rwanda and South Africa have been witnessed,” says Mativo.
Their biggest challenge, he says, has been the bureaucracy in the government, especially in ensuring a proper regulatory policy towards dumping and recycling e-waste. At the moment, Europe, Dubai and USA are prime markets as they struggle to break even at home.
Locally, E-Lab targets large markets, especially malls where their murals hang. In the long term, E-lab is focusing on investing in awareness and boosting overall production even as they are keen to open up their market through an online platform.
“We are finalising on creating one market area where our clients can access our wares. We have already onboard Miss Tourism Environment, Evelyn Arasa as our awareness campaigner.” Mativo envisions that in the next five years, E-lab will have the capacity to produce and push 9,000 units of recycled items.