Experiential learning helps teach entrepreneurship
I am a student of the Transforming African Agricultural Universities to Significantly Contribute to Africa’s Growth and Development (TAGDev) project at Egerton University in Nakuru, Kenya. TAGDev helps students translate their research into viable businesses and universities to become entrepreneurship enablers.
I study agriculture and am in the fourth year. TAGDev is an entrepreneurship and job creation project of the Regional University Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), supported by the Mastercard Foundation.
About three years ago, I noticed that farmers were having difficulty marketing their milk. Milk is a complete food. It contains most of the nutrients that other foods do not have. This makes it ideal for spoilage, as it is a perfect substrate.
It must therefore be treated hygienically and well packaged to improve its shelf life. Although Kenya has one of the most developed dairy sectors in Africa, a large part of the population does not have access to milk. Efforts to improve this are essential to contribute to food and nutrition security.
Milk farmers struggled because of the few cooling stations in Njoro sub-county of Nakuru county that could not absorb most of the milk they produced.
This left them at the mercy of unscrupulous middlemen who exploited them. The milk was sold raw without any added value because there was only one processing plant.
Milk collected by the formal system at the cooling factories would be transported to Nairobi by various companies for processing. This meant an “export” of employment opportunities to Nairobi.
Prestige dairy brands
To take advantage of this, Camrade Dairy and Food Enterprises was created in 2018 by my two “comrades” and me. The company is located in the Njokerio shopping center near the university, about 25 km southwest of Nakuru.
Initially, the main focus of the company was to buy, process and sell value-added dairy products. Our first market segment was students from and around the university. Since then, we have expanded our market beyond this area.
The company is registered under Kenyan laws. Our products, yogurt and sour milk, are marketed under the Prestige Dairy Brands name with the slogan “The perfect healthy refreshers”. We have the relevant regulatory certificates from the Kenya Dairy Board as well as the Kenya Bureau of Standards.
Camrade Dairy plans to become the preferred dairy brand in Kenya by providing high quality dairy products that meet the needs of consumers. This will be achieved by consistently producing and delivering quality dairy products that generate sustainable profits while ensuring value for money for our esteemed customers.
We draw on our vast knowledge, skills and experience in the Kenyan dairy sub-sector, having worked with reputable dairy companies in the country after our first training at the university.
In our economic model, farmers play a key role. They are our main suppliers of raw materials. To ensure good quality dairy products, we need to choose the right source of milk. We avoid “outgoing waste” by stopping the “incoming waste”, getting the right quality of milk for processing. Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point, or HACCP, standards are followed throughout processing.
A total of 55 farmers are currently supplying us with milk. These farmers come from households of two to five people, so our impact is quite high at the local level.
Our university education has enabled us to support them in the production of clean milk and other good breeding practices.
We directly employ young people in the transport, processing, distribution and marketing of our products. We indirectly help support employees with our input sourcing by providing a ready market for their products. These include ingredients such as sugar, stabilizers, thickeners as well as packaging and bottling.
We received training as part of the Empowering Kenyan Youth project through the AGLEAD project (Agri-enterprise Incubation for Improved Livelihoods and Economic Development).
Training focused on human resource management, financial management and digital marketing, helping us run the business smoothly.
We looked for other skills outside of college, including business modeling, pitching, record keeping, and accounting.
Camrade Dairy partners are grateful to Professor Patience Mshenga for his continued support through the AGLEAD project. The same goes for the TAGDev program for rekindling my dreams by giving me the opportunity to study at Egerton for free.
Comrade is positioning himself for the future. With the current training in general agriculture and animal husbandry, we are looking to further refine our skills. Our wish is to extend the treatment. So we are looking for support in this business because it is capital intensive.
Balancing academics and businesses
Balancing university studies at university and running our business, within the framework of our higher education, is possible, but not an easy task. Both activities are demanding and require as much time as attention.
My way of doing things is to make sure that neither the company nor my academics suffer. The most important thing for me is time. I plan my time. I know what to do when.
Sometimes that means sleeping fewer hours so you can work a little more. I do this often, especially near the exams.
I also prepare for my exams early so that there is less work to cover during the exam period. Another strategy is to have someone help you monitor the business while you are fully engaged in other business activities or during exams.
The comrade has one of these partners who is present to manage the business operations at all times while the others are not available. This helped keep the business running smoothly at all times.
In my opinion, experiential learning is the best model for teaching entrepreneurship in universities. Knowledge should not only be imparted to students, but students should also be allowed to run well-supervised businesses during their studies.
Competitions such as business plan development and business presentation competitions should be held after regular and rigorous training on the same subject.
The best ideas win and they are then fully funded by the university as part of an incubation program that can last a year or two.
Links with industry are also essential. Student entrepreneurs need to be linked with industry players to mentor them so that they can get a feel for the larger business landscape.
In doing so, they will gain relevant skills on how to position a business for financing, build a strong brand, and manage available business resources from a practical standpoint.
Egerton University has played a vital role in my entrepreneurial journey. After launching Comrade Dairy, we received seed funding from the AGLEAD project after successfully participating in a business plan competition.
Training also followed on financial management, human resources management, digital marketing, business planning and pitching, among others.
It has been a positive experience. The university, through the project, provided a market outlet which has played a key role in our sales growth.
Besides training through projects, there are several other courses offered to all students of the Faculty of Agriculture of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness Management.
In the future, I think the program should be improved with more hands-on activities, more staff should be trained to deliver the program, and students should be allowed to run their businesses.