The street vending business is a major source of livelihood for many Kenyans. It also provides easy access to quick meals. Most Nairobi residents, no matter their socioeconomic status, enjoy all types of street food from local vendors. However, over 100,000 street food vendors in the city currently face serious economic and environmental constraints due to lack or poor access to an environmentally friendly way to keep their food warm. Most use charcoal, which is not only costly, but also bad for the environment.

This is where Zuhura Solutions comes in. The company, based in Nairobi, seeks to spur innovation in the food sector by providing reliable, clean and sustainable energy to marginalised groups in order to realise economic transformation, and ensure social and environmental change. This will not only improve the lives of these marginalised groups, but will contribute to climate change mitigation measures.

A street food vendor using the Halisi Trolley

One of the solutions that Zuhura came up with to help the street vendors is the Halisi Trolley. It is a solar-powered street food vending cart, that enables vendors to keep their food warm for longer, in an environmentally-friendly way. The trolley also has charging ports, which the vendors can lease out to customers at an extra cost. The design of the trolley also includes space for ads.

Zuhura is able to subsidise the cost of making the trolleys by selling advertising space on the vending cart. It also offers customised or modular versions of the Halisi Trolley and sells them in bulk.

The company takes into account the socio-economic status of the vendors and offers them a flexible pay-as-you-go (PAYGo) payment plan of $80 a month with a 10 percent initial down-payment. It also links the vendors with technicians who can quickly and conveniently service their trolleys.

People are at the core of the company’s solutions and products because the goal is to elevate marginalised groups at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). Equitability, sustainability and affordability are the driving force behind what the company’s does. This is evident in all facets of Zuhura’s operations – from the materials chosen to the solutions innovated.

The company’s founder and CEO Benson Kibiti says Zuhura is passionate about solving challenges in the food sector. The company has a team of five people who are based in Kenya and the US.

Zuhura has participated in several high-profile competitions from startups, including ASME I-SHOW 2020 (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers); and Thought for Food Challenge 2021 (TFF). “We were finalists in both ASME I-SHOW and TFF,” says Mr. Kibiti.

The company has also entered into partnerships with local incubators, including Gearbox Kenya and Kasper Technologies, to develop a viable product and conduct field tests with local vendors across Nairobi. The firm has also been able to raise seed money to fund mass production of the trolley within the next few months.

Mr. Kibiti said the trolleys will curb the use of charcoal.

Zuhara has maximised the potential for profitability by using durable, high quality materials. The trolleys have an overhead light so that vendors can sell for longer hours.

“These features support greater revenue generation and give vendors more autonomy and flexibility when it comes to their working hours,” says Mr Kibiti.

“Once we go to the market, we will continue with our focus on youth and women employment, while also helping to promoting street food vending as a dignified and viable profession,”  he adds.

By curbing the use of charcoal, Zuhura Solutions is enabling vendors to operate in a clean and safe work environment. The company also aims to drive demand for more nutritious foods. “Ultimately, we hope to decentralise the typical restaurant and help more people access quick and affordable meals on the go,”  says Mr Kibiti.

By the end of 2022, Zuhura Solutions wants to raise at least a $500,000 grant to build 1,000 Halisi Trolleys, fund operational expenses and purchase startup manufacturing assets. It also wants to set up logistics for manufacturing and testing, as well as establish a robust sales and marketing plan in order to sell the Halisi Trolley in all parts of the country.