Elizabeth Gikebe: Turning Cassava into Gold

By Gloria Chemutai

Armed with a degree from St. Paul’s University in 2012, Elizabeth Gikebe went on to work as a software developer, a position she held for two years.

In her third year of employment she landed a job as a software project manager, a major career leap that was a dream for many.

She was happy but wanted more and her passion for entrepreneurship led her to chart a totally different path from her career in software development.

Her entrepreneurial spirit led her to found a food manufacturing startup, called Mhogo Foods.

Recalling the journey toward owning a company, Elizabeth gives credit to her student days at SPU. She says that SPU shaped her life through Christian ethics which now guide her in business and career.

She also believes that it is the courses she took at SPU that equipped her with confidence and enabled her to explore different fields and not just her major.

However, even with the knowledge she had, starting a company was not easy. “I tried different businesses before getting into Mhogo Foods and many failed,” she said.

A change of approach and research put in prior to founding the company was what made Mhogo Foods work out.

In her research, she realized that there was a gap in terms of food processing and many people were relying on maize and wheat as a staple food.

She researched further on the alternative to maize and wheat and that is when she found out about cassava and decided to process cassava flour from the cassava tubers.

That was in 2015 and since then Mhogo Foods has been doing well and growing its market reach. They pride themselves in quality and healthy products.

According to Elizabeth, Mhogo Foods processes gluten-free and grain free cassava flour. “We work closely with small-scale farmers to make sure we give our customers the best quality of cassava flour,” she said.

The flour can be used for gluten-free baking, ugali and porridge. She says that one can use cassava flour in cooking ugali, porridge, brownies, cookies, cakes and pancakes or add it to one’s favourite all-purpose blend.

It has great flavor and texture in addition to helping retain moisture in gluten-free baked goods.

Elizabeth challenges students of SPU to go ahead and put their ideas to work without fear. “If you have an idea, just start and don’t be afraid to explore because someone somewhere is also thinking about the same idea and if you don’t start, they will. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she counsels.

She added that there are many research institutions in Kenya most of which are run by the government and staffed with officers always ready to offer guidance. She urged the students to utilise these institutions for their advantage.

Even with her success, Elizabeth says that there are challenges in the running of any business. When she started Mhogo Foods, she had little knowledge in sales and marketing but due to her dedication, she learnt about it online.

“Within five months of starting the business, I had sold the product to over 50 retail outlets in Kenya. Financing has also been a challenge but I have overcome it by getting investors who have financed the business,” she said.

She has since overcome her challenges and Mhogo Foods has registered quite a success. The flour is currently being sold in over 100 retail outlets in Kenya and exported to parts of Europe, USA and China.

She also plans to expand her product line to include value addition of drought resistant crop. She hopes that in the next five years, Mhogo Foods will be the leading processor of affordable gluten-free flour in Africa.

Elizabeth is inspired by Daymond John – CEO and founder of FUBU because he came from an average family and neighbourhood and rose against all odds to become a great entrepreneur and investor.

She regards herself as a transformational leader who allows her employees to make decisions on their own while giving them a chance to explore and communicate their ideas freely.

Her parting shot to the graduating class of 2017: “It isn’t enough to just develop your skills. Be that person with an open mind and positive attitude who pushes for progress, creates opportunities and doesn’t accept to be average. Your attitude determines your altitude.”

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