Unknown to many, Joel Mwale is a Kenya entrepreneur who capitalized on rainwater to make millions when he was barely out of his teens.
He attracted significant attention when he sold his maiden company, Sky Drop Enterprises, which he had founded at the age of 16, at Ksh50 million (current rates) to pursue a venture in education.
Speaking to The Standard in November 2013, he revealed that he suffered a bout of dysentery after drinking contaminated water in his Kitale home.
While recovering from the debilitating disease in hospital, he reportedly thought about the problems that his community was facing due to the lack of access to clean water.
Joel Mwale savours one of his products in 2011.
He intimated that he put together his knowledge of physics and Ksh 8,000 savings, and enlisted help from volunteers to dig a borehole to provide water for the community.
Things didn’t turn out well for him, however, as he was soon forced to drop out of high school due to the lack of funds and thus started looking for odd jobs to supplement the family income.
While returning home one day, he was caught up in a thunderstorm and the idea for Sky Drop came to fruition.
“I remember it was in April during one of the heavy rain seasons in Kitale. I was just walking as the rain poured and happened to spot a closed yoghurt shop. Next to it was a water tank that was storing rainwater from the gutters of the roof. I thought to myself, can’t I trap this rainwater, store it in a reservoir, purify it and then sell it to the public?” he
He told the publication that he then approached the yoghurt seller who gave him a location to set up his business but his trips to NGOs and banks in search of funding failed, forcing him to approach his mother for a part of the family’s 20-acre piece of land.
The proceedings from the sale of the land led to the acquisition of a machine for Ksh 430,000, through which he used to process the rainwater for public consumption.
“We used to harvest rainwater and focus on production during the wet season. During the dry spells, we would market our product. Half a litre of water retailed at Ksh 17, and a litre at Ksh 31.
“Initially, Sky Drop was only able to sell about 10 bottles a day as a result of significant competition from already established bottlers, but after persistent campaigns, sales increased, with the company making Ksh25.6 million in 2012, Mwale stated.
By the time Mwale was selling off his shares in the company in 2012, it is reported to have established markets across Western Kenya and into Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Mwale, at only 21, was featured during the Global Entrepreneurship Summit held in Marrakech, Morocco in November 2014, where he was hailed as one of the next generations of African entrepreneurs.
That same year, he received a Google award (Zeitgeist Young Minds 2012) for being one of the top 10 brightest young minds in the world, an award that reportedly saw him spend a lot of time in the US’s Silicon Valley.
He spent time with people like Larry Page, the co-founder, and chief executive of internet search engine giant Google, and Sir Tim Berners-Lee, best known for inventing the world wide web.