At a time when the world is calling on the youth to stand up and chart their own path in the society through entrepreneurship. Ambrose Mbuvi, a young graduate of Jomo Kenyatta University has heeded the call and is bringing a fresh perspective to organic and bee farming. Under the Nico Honey brand, Ambrose is fighting to bring back trust to natural honey, winning hearts a bottle at a time.
Tell us about yourself, what do you do?
Well, Mbuvi is a person helping entrepreneurs build their start-ups and bring their ideas to life. I am the founder of Nico Organics and I am also involved in advising SMEs on to set up their business development structures and operations.
What made you choose entrepreneurship as a career?
I did not really choose this line of work but rather this line of work chose me. I studied small business development and entrepreneurship in school. I then transitioned to working with business incubators after school; helping agribusiness start-ups establish their operations and seek financing from investors. I think that experience pushed me towards entrepreneurship and into helping others develop their own enterprises.
You do that under your start-up Nico Organics? Tell us a bit about that.
Nico Organics is a one-year-old start-up, aimed at building smart agribusiness investment in the line of organic farming, beekeeping and agribusiness advisory. Our main product currently is Nico honey- and this is exciting because its natural honey packaged in its purest form, directly from the beehive and into the market.
We contract farmers in the rural areas, currently, we have set up bee farms in Kiambu and Kitui counties. We train farmers on the modern methods of beekeeping, providing modern beekeeping equipment and beehives. We show them how to take care of the hives and also ensure that whatever type of farming they do within the vicinity of the beehives is free of chemical use.
Organic farming is wide why did you choose honey as your first product?
Well, where I come from (Kitui County) a lot of farmers practice traditional bee farming for subsistence use, and over the years I have seen the practice of beekeeping dwindle- honey production is dropping. Additionally, the bee population is reducing at an alarming rate because of our use of chemicals. I wanted to do something that could help conserve bees and while at the same time improve the quality honey; that eventually led me to innovate in the lines of integrative organic farming, where farmers cultivate crops organically and also keep bees.
What challenges have you encountered so far?
Dealing with customers, especially because they have gotten a lot of poor quality honey in the market and this has eroded customer confidence in the industry as a whole. Thus we have to work against a perception that most of the honey in the market is not pure and convince customers that the honey we sell is direct from the hive. With time, we have learnt to counter the doubt by giving customers the opportunity to sample our honey and we even test the quality with them.
So for someone who doesn’t know the difference between original honey and impure honey, how do I tell the difference?
There are simple tests you can carry out at home, which are not 100 percent accurate but will help you identify about three-quarters of the contaminated honey. For instance, you can do the candle test where you dip the candle wick in the honey and light it, natural honey should burn. If water has been added it won’t be able to burn, however, that only tests contamination by water.
Another test we do is the glass test which examines the velocity of honey and how fast it dissolves in the water. Natural honey should first settle at the bottom of a glass of water, for a few seconds before dissolving. Thus, if you pour honey into a glass of water, the faster it dissolves the higher the chances that it has been contaminated.
Many people get wonderful ideas but not that many turn them into businesses, how did you transition from an idea to turning it into a business?
I think the main issue is that we often think we need a lot to start, even from the people we guide in starting businesses, the notion is that you need a lot of money to implement your idea. However, the reality is that you can start small, what sets great entrepreneurs apart is being able to dissect an idea and find a way of starting small.
For instance, Nico Honey is relatively small but at the back of my mind, I know what I am working towards a bigger vision and it comes with time. On the other hand, if you want to immediately start with that big vision, you’ll probably find that years down the line you won’t have started anything.
Being a young entrepreneur, do you think mentorship has a role in business and why?
I think mentorship is critical because mentors will be able to keep you on your toes, there is a notion that if you are doing business then you are your own boss. This might easily make it hard for people to be committed especially in your early days-mentors help counter this.
I have a business mentor and initially, he was a customer but after he bought and liked our product, we started talking about the business, met a couple of times and the rest is history. We have been working with him for the last seven months. Mentors keep you accountable and advise on when to move from stage A to B and will help you in manoeuvring the challenges you’ll face in the early stage.”
If there is anything you could change in your entrepreneurship journey so far, what would it be?
Entrepreneurship has been an interesting journey and I have enjoyed all the pitfalls, but if there is something I could change it would be… in our earlier days, there was a time we were tempted to do larger orders than we could meet and we made deals that didn’t benefit our long-time goals. We were focused on making money. So if I could change anything it would be that.
What is your advice to any aspiring entrepreneur out there looking to get into the business?
As long as you are in business you are working for as many people as your customers are. So if you want to start business chasing the dream that you will be your own boss, it doesn’t work that way. At the end of the day you are answerable to as many people as you serve; friends, mentors, partners etc. Also, I would say focus on providing quality and making your product/business open to customers. Finally, when making decisions, let them be inspired by your larger goals rather than financial benefits.
What is next for Nico organics?
We are working towards training more people interested in organic farming, beginning mid-year. We are also targeting to set up about a hundred new beehives by the end of the year after the training is done. I would encourage more people to venture into beekeeping, it is actually simpler than you might think. It only needs a small parcel of land, about a half an acre to be in business. Bees are actually friendly insects and only attack when disturbed, try them.