From a Degree in Chemistry to Mushroom Farming Caroline Mtongolo is an Entrepreneur by birth.
Mushroom farming is a growing venture in Kenya. Zoi Investment Ltd, Director and Co-founder, Caroline Mtongolo has a burning passion for farming, which led her to start a company that majors in mushroom farming and selling for profit.
Financial matters had an opportunity to interview Caroline, and as we sat down with her, we could tell that this is someone whose entrepreneurial spirit is burning bright. From a Degree in Science, majoring in chemistry, to being a market researcher by profession, she still goes an extra mile to ensure that she delivers mushrooms to the market.
- Tell us about your business and why you ventured into mushroom farming business?
Zoi Investment Limited, fondly referred to as Zoi Mushrooms on social media carries out agribusiness activities, investment activities as well as social activities. The company is however mainly involved in value addition and distribution of mushrooms in Kenya. Zoi sells mushrooms of the oyster and button strain and is looking forward to diversify to other types like reishi.
I have always been excited about agribusiness and recently we saw a great and untapped opportunity in mushroom farming that we decided to pursue.
- What motivated you to start the business?
Currently, about 2.8 million adults die annually in Kenya as a result of controllable lifestyle diseases. At Zoi, we believe in a Kenya where no one dies from controllable lifestyle diseases. We are changing the script by providing a healthy food option; a substitute for unwholesome animal proteins.
We are also playing a role in poverty eradication by providing employment for people working at the farms and also throughout the distribution process. Further, we act as a distributor of mushrooms by buying from farmers and reselling to both local and soon international markets (Eastern Africa, Southern Africa, Asia and the Middle East), thus providing small scale farmers with a ready market.
Being able to change a life or two is the backbone of our business.
- What is your target market?
Both males and females living in urban areas who desire to eat healthy but have limited options for healthy foods. We bring mushrooms close to them and even share exciting recipes that they can prepare on our Facebook page @zoimushrooms
- Where or how did you get the capital to start the business?
We started really small; we took a leap of faith. We started with some savings we had and just continued. We have also been blessed to receive a grant that has really helped us in growing the business.
- How do you manage full time employment and still have time for business?
It is not easy at all. More often than not you find yourself in a place where one of the two suffers but deliberate planning and putting in a few extra hours at night and over the weekends, makes up for the lost time.
- What challenges do you face as ayoung entrepreneur and how do you deal with them?
A young entrepreneur faces numerous challenges; it’s already stated that about 95% of startups will die before their 5th birthday; you can imagine the pressure to merely survive and make it.
I would say the biggest challenge is penetrating the market. Along the journey you discover the market already has its major players and it is not very easy to get a slice of the cake. I believe the only way to deal with that is to keep at it. Only the strong survive in the end, so I will keep at it through the high and low seasons and network widely until I create a niche market for Zoi.
- Any future plans for Zoi investment?
Zoi intends to venture in creating a hub for quality spores production to empower mushroom farmers have a good harvest hence contributing in poverty eradication through agribusiness. It is a challenge getting quality spores currently and we would like to step in and create a solution for that.
- Advice for young people who would want to venture into the business?
I would advise any aspiring entrepreneurs to have a vision and write it down, then commit it to God. Let the vision be so clear and strong, so that when you hit a roadblock, the vision will sustain you. The formative years of a startup are not a walk in the park; you need an inner drive to keep you going through the night seasons until you break through.
Also, keep an open mind, if one business does not work, build another one. In business, failure is not final. It just shows you one more way of how you ought not to do business.
- What else would you like readers to know about you?
I am a girl with a vision and on a journey. I intend to enjoy every bit of the journey and keep rediscovering myself, in the end, my life story will be a master piece that I hope and pray will encourage many people in days to come. Life gives you what you place a demand on, not what you deserve. So desire it, but take a further step and place a demand for what you believe is your portion in this amazing earth we live in
- Did you experience any challenges just because you are a woman?
So far in entrepreneurship I have not faced any gender-based discrimination and I am grateful for that. But I know women in other male dominated lines of entrepreneurship have faced many such challenges but they have proved their worth and earned the respect of those who looked down on them.
Co-founder and Business Development Director
Facebook: Zoi Mushrooms
Twitter handle: @zoimushrooms
Tel: +254 732 372 155
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