The narrative of a young successful Kenyan is to go to school, get good grades and secure a nice job. Elijah Njoroge went to school, got good grades but never got a job. In fact, he has never applied for one. He defied the narrative. He knew that he would never be employed.
So he went to school, got good grades and secured networks. He believes that networks are the lifeline of any successful business. Getting to interact with future architects, civil engineers and horticulturalists at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) was the key to success for the Biotechnology and Microbiology graduate.
Njoroge reaches out to the networks he formed in campus from time to time. He engages architects to create designs for his greenhouses. Civil engineers come in handy when he has to install water pipes across a large piece of land. Horticulturalists help in providing information to novice greenhouse farmers.
At 28, Njoroge is the Founder and CEO of Vintage Greens; a company that provides agricultural solutions to individuals and corporates. The company deals in construction of greenhouses and hydroponic systems. It also provides extension services to farmers.
Though there are numerous companies that make greenhouses. Njoroge’s company is among the few initiated by a young person. Greenhouse construction is a capital intensive venture, hence less attractive to young entrepreneurs.
Mkulima Young caught up with Njoroge in Juja, where he was checking on the progress of a greenhouse that his company is constructing for Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). He secured us an hour for the interview before rushing to Kiambu County headquarters for a follow-up meeting on a tomato grafting project he is doing for the County Government.
Greenhouse in seven days
Ten minutes into the interview we had to pause and allow Njoroge to talk a client who had travelled from Embu in search of a reliable company to install a greenhouse in her farm. She had been directed to Vintage Greens by a friend. A quick meeting and the two parties are in business. For Ksh 210,000 the client will have an 8 by 15 metres greenhouse installed in seven days.
This is a typical day for the young CEO. He balances between monitoring the progress of his projects and networking to secure new clients. He frequently uses Mkulima Young website to grow his contacts. He has 18 employees to help him run the company.
An international company
Vintage Greens was established in March 2013. It was founded on three pillars: to offer quality greenhouses and hydroponic systems, to solve soil borne diseases and to link farmers to markets. Just shy of two years in business, the company has successfully constructed over 300 greenhouses in Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan and all over Kenya. It boasts corporate clients such as the Catholic Church, JKUAT, Kiambu County Government and JICA.
The company also has a large list of individual clientele especially among the youth. Greenhouse farming is a popular farming practice among the youth. It does not require much land and it is easy to manage crops in a greenhouse.
Having successfully positioned itself as a quality provider in greenhouse construction over the past year, Vintage Greens is currently working to achieve its second objective, to solve soil borne diseases. Tomato farmers in Kiambu County have grappled with bacteria wilt. To solve this problem, the County’s Executive Board Member for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Dr. Monica Waiganjo spearheaded a project to provide farmers with a bacteria wilt resistant variety of tomato.
At the centre of the project is Njoroge’s company, Vintage Greens. The company is providing Kiambu County with research material for the project and grafting the first crop of wilt resistant tomatoes in each of the 19 wards of Kiambu County.
According to Njoroge, the secret to bagging such huge projects is to network, hard work and delivering quality results on time. “I believe that today more organisations are willing to work with the youth. I find it is easy for me knock on doors that seem too lofty for ordinary people because I bear the title youth. Young people should therefore not be afraid to take a risk in capital intensive businesses,” avers Njoroge.
By Nyambura Maina