Kenyan students win $1 million prize for business innovation

A team of students from Kenya's St Paul’s University last night won the global finals of the 2022 Hult Prize for their business innovation.

Competing in the finals as Eco-Bana Ltd, the students beat five other finalists and were awarded $1 million to boost their business. 

Eco-bana Ltd is a start-up that makes biodegradable sanitary pads using banana fibre. The idea aims to stop plastic manufacturing by providing biodegradable sanitary pads to end period poverty.

The team comprises Lennox Omondi, Keylie Muthoni, Dullah Shiltone and Brian Ndung’u. The event was held during the Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City, US. Former US President Bill Clinton delivered the keynote address.

“The Hult 2022 Prize was such a joyful celebration of innovation and sustainability in business. All our finalists did incredible pitches today, but there could only be one winner. Huge congratulations to Eco-Bana Ltd,” Hult Business School said in a tweet.

Muthoni, however, did not make it to New York due to a visa hitch.

“With $1 million, we're confident that we will be the best and become number one producers of biodegradable sanitary towels in Kenya and East Africa,” Mr Omondi told Daily Nation in an interview before they left for the finals.

He doubles up as the chief technical officer of the company. He is a third year student of mass communication, public relations and marketing.

“Today, at exactly 1.58 pm New York time, Eco-Bana is here to ask for one million dollars to make our dreams come true. We predict to sell more than three million pads, generating over $50 million and employ more than 2,000 people by 2024,” Mr Ndung’u said during their pitch. 

The company has already introduced the product in the market and plans to expand to the Egyptian market have started.

Mr Omondi revealed that for mass production, they need heavy duty machines which are costly.

Muthoni is the chief operations officer, while Shiltone and Ndung’u work as the chief financial officer and the marketing officer respectively. The students entered into the final after winning the regional summit in May in Johannesburg and emerging position two in the Global Accelerator in Boston, Massachusetts in August.

“We're a team with a mind for business and a heart for the world. We’ll continue creating sustainable enterprises that will shape the future of the sanitary towels industry that will drive entrepreneurship growth,” Mr Omondi said.

The five other finalists are Breer from Hong Kong, Savvy Engineers from Pakistan, Openversum from Switzerland, Cooseii from Taiwan and Flexie from Australia. The six teams are the winners of each of the regional summits.

“At the point where I was founding the company, I had difficulties balancing with my studies. With proper guidance from my mentor, I've learnt how to balance by creating a weekly study plan and a work plan. That way, I’m able to know when I have to leave the office and go to class or do my assignments and still get to be with my friends and team mates,” Mr Omondi said.

His goal is to study for a masters degree at the University of Oxford.