Tenacity, zeal and passion for social empowerment, just a few words that describes Barclay Paul Okari. Mr. Okari is a serial entrepreneur who has started several ventures that seek to offer solutions to social problems. Impact Africa Industries is his flagship business venture. Impact Africa Industries is an organization that manufactures affordable sanitary pads for local communities. We had an opportunity to hear the story of his entrepreneurial journey.
Who is Barclay Paul Okari?
Barclay Paul Okari is a young entrepreneur passionate about building great businesses around the challenges we face as Africa. I believe these challenges represent our biggest opportunity.
Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey?
In 2006 I founded Skype Science which was a science video sharing site founded as an educational tool for young people to share ideas and knowledge through videos. In 2009 I founded Market Place Limited which was a platform for buyers and sellers where we would help link up the two. The sellers would upload their wares on the platform from where the sellers would identify what they liked and contact the sellers. Our revenue model that was advertisement and subscription based didn’t work as we didn’t meet the threshold to break-even as expected and due to cash flow problems we closed shop.
In 2011 I founded Impact Africa Industries Limited which is a company that manufactures affordable sanitary pads and baby diapers that seeks to provide high quality affordable consumer products to the bottom of the pyramid of population. We currently distribute in East Africa. In 2016 I founded Kopa Kredit which is a financial technology company that seeks to disrupt lending in Kenya by innovating how access to finance is done and how inclusive finance can work for the bottom of the pyramid of population leveraging mobile technologies.
We know that Impact Africa Industries is your key business. Where did the idea to start Impact Africa Industries come from?
The idea to start a sanitary pads manufacturing unit came from an experience I had as a volunteer teacher at a girl’s high school in the Maasai Mara region. Everyday pockets of girls would miss school and when I inquired I learnt that the girls who could not afford sanitary pads stayed home when on their monthly periods. That arouse my curiosity and after digging into the statistics I was astounded by how big the problem is in East Africa – and to a large extent Africa. I knew this was an opportunity to give an affordable solution and make some money in the process.
How did you finance Impact Africa Industries?
I had some savings and got Kshs. 100,000 loan from my parents, which I was able to repay within 6 months. After the business started having stable revenues coming in, we continued to fund our growth through bootstrapping in order to avoid a sale of equity in the business or getting into debt at this stage.
What is the biggest challenge that you have had to overcome and how did it affect your business strategy?
The biggest challenge has been to prove that our product is up to par with the known brands in the market. We are in competition with the large multi-national companies while we started out as a small local player. This has meant that we have had to extensively invest in research and development of the product, just to prove that we made a good reliable alternative at low cost.
When did you have your ‘Yes I made it’ moment?
The moment I got all the health clearances by the relevant government agencies and took the product to the market. Within a week the first batch sold out. That was the moment I knew I had struck it.
Who has been an inspiration to you, without whom you wouldn’t have been where you are today?
No question: Fred Swaniker. He is an amazing visionary and risk taker who I got to know through his YouTube videos. You could say he has been my remote mentor since the beginning. He taught me what it is like to operate in a social entrepreneurial setup and how things happen. I really got the information and knowledge I needed when starting up. He mentored me remotely without him knowing.
The story went full circle when I met him at the African Leadership Academy he founded. I went there on an Anzisha Fellowship and we have kept in touch ever since.
You mentioned Anzisha Felowship, how many other honours have you received for your work?
I am happy that what we do has gotten global recognition. But what makes me glad is the impact we make in society. I have attended the African Leadership Academy under Anzisha Fellow 2013. In the same year I was nominated mention in the Under 35 CEO Magazine as a Young Social Entrepreneur to Watch 2013. In 2014 and 2015 I was nominated in Forbes Africa Magazine as a Forbes 30 Most Promising Young African Entrepreneurs 2014 and 2015. In the same year I was nominated by Business Daily Africa as the Top 40 Under 40 Men in Kenya 2014.
In 2015 I was included in the United Nations Foundation list of 7 Inspiring Entrepreneurs to Watch Globally. In the same year I got nominated by All African Business Leaders Awards (AABLA) as Young Business Leader of the Year 2015. I was also nominated by The Future Project as Young Person of the Year Africa in 2015.
What is your favorite business tool?
Twitter. This platform has enabled me to meet and interact with top business leaders. It has also been a helpful source of information in keeping me up to date with new trends in business and leadership.