Although studying and being an entrepreneur can be exhausting for full-time students, a group of three youngsters has found a way around it to launch a firm.
Twenty-two-year-old Marie Rose Mushimiyimana and her colleagues have proved that this is not only possible but can also help one hone management skills.
Mushimiyimana attending to one of the hydroponic systems they make in kigali
Mushimiyimana, a business management and entrepreneurship student at Akilah Institute told Business Times that her passion has enabled her to venture into a unique form of agriculture known as hydroponics.
Hydroponics is a technology in agriculture where people can grow plants without soil on small space around their homes.
some of the vegetables grown using the system.
Their firm is called Hydroponics by Rwaponics.
She explains that this kind of gardening system allows one to grow vegetables without access to land. The system uses water and natural nutrients, instead of soil.
In collaboration with Ignite Solar, the fastest growing Pan-African developer of off-grid energy solutions, Mushimiyimana together with her two fellow students, Marie Aline Iraguha and Delphine Ihirwe were able to set up their first hydroponics system in 2017.
Mushimiyimana, who is the co-founder and chairperson of Rwaponics Ltd said that this was upon realization that there was a problem of malnutrition among Kigali residents.
Among the causes of this was lack of enough vegetables, especially during dry seasons.
Malnutrition is quite significant in the country with statistics showing that 38 per cent of children under five years are affected.
For her and her colleagues, this was a big concern which also presented an opportunity.
“We realized that one of the things that contributed to this is that most people in the city don’t have gardens where they can plant some vegetables,” she says.
They set out to find a solution that can contribute to the reduction of malnutrition, as a way to encourage people to adopt kitchen gardens popularly known as ‘Akarima Kigikoni’.
However, she said that they found out that people mostly living in Kigali don’t have adequate space for kitchen gardens while suppliers of vegetables often see a dip during dry seasons as the production reduces drastically.
This, she said, leads a section of the population who cannot afford them, go without the right vegetables supply during dry seasons leading to chances of malnutrition.
She added that this led them to come up with a plan of providing space for the people to practice farming, especially planting vegetables that would help fight malnutrition.
Mushimiyimana said that the crops that are grown in this way take up less space, require less water, grow faster and are less vulnerable to disease compared to other kinds of plants.
“Our company uses this system to grow vegetables to supply to Kigali Market and also we are selling hydroponic systems to individuals who want to grow vegetables in their homes,” she said.
They were able to build their first system (prototype) last year, motivated by a drive to contribute to a solution to malnutrition, especially bringing a new system that the community is not yet aware of.
By juggling academics and business, Mushimiyimana said that it has helped her understand what she learns in school as a Business Management and Entrepreneurship student.
For her, she says the business has helped her apply the skills learned in class. Sometimes it’s a source of income through winning different competitions which, she says help her carry out her normal duties at ease.
For the community, it has helped reduce the problem of malnutrition and provides regular availability of vegetables on the market. Moreover, they are also a source of employment for some people during their system installation.
Last year in partnership with Ignite Solar, the trio was able to build their own first system, harvest vegetables and supply them to Ignite Solar staff.
Whereas, in the same year, they participated in entrepreneurship competitions and won in competitions including Akilah Career Pitch Competition by Akilah Institute, taking the second position in Solar Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition by Impact Hub Kigali and first place at the campus in Hult Prize competition by Hult International Business School.
Going forward, Mushimiyimana said they plan to have a big system that can provide affordable vegetable to up to 30 percent of people living in Kigali by the end of 2020.