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Feb 13, 2019

Simatech: Access to clean water through automated vending machines

Access to clean water is an issue that affects millions of people in Kenya. According to water.org, 19 million Kenyans are unable to obtain safe water. Furthermore, the organization asserts that only 9 out of 55 public water service providers in Kenya provide continuous water supply, which is particularly evident in urban slums and rural areas. Seeking to mitigate this problem is Kenya Climate Innovation Center (KCIC) client, Simatech Integrated Solutions.

Related article: Taking a bold step in dealing with the water crisis

Bringing 24/7 access to water to rural and peri-urban Kenyans

One of the directors of the enterprise, Paul Kilambuga, had been working in the bottling industry as an electrical engineer for 12 years. He saw a need for a machine that could serve customers automatically without the use single-use plastics- while also dealing with problems in the water industry. In 2015, he came together with Nataline Olang, who had a background in business management, and Pascal Aloo, a mechatronic engineer, to begin build vending machines for water.

Through designing and manufacturing automated liquid vending machines, Simatech provides Kenyans in rural and peri-urban areas 24-hour access to water. Customers can bring their own reusable bottles or containers and fill them with 5-20 liters of water. As such, they can use the water both for drinking and for other household purposes, like cleaning and bathing. Each vending machine can be customized with features such as filters for the customers’ liking.  

Related article: Mitigating water scarcity with evolved technology

Water vending machines help Kenya environmentally, economically, and socially

One of the main environmental benefits of Simatech’s water vending machines is that they cut down on single-use plastics. Often times in Kenya, obtaining clean water means having to buy plastic water bottles that are only used once and subsequently thrown away. Through the vending machines, customers can use the same containers over and over again.

Furthermore, time and therefore productivity is lost when people have to spend hours fetching water. Climate change and increased droughts only further exacerbates the problem. By providing Kenyans with a reliable and constant source of water in convenient locations, they can spend more time on more productive, income-generating activities.

Simatech has also been able to create employment. In addition to their 4-person team, they utilize a 5-person fabrication unit for their machines.

Additionally, as their workshop is located next to a children’s center, the kids are able to come to their premises and learn about what they are doing. This allows the children to learn about water and environmental issues as well as get inspired about entrepreneurship.

Simatech gets incubation from Kenya Climate Innovation Center

Simatech became a client of Kenya Climate Innovation Center in 2017. When they arrived, they were still working on a prototype, but they have now reached validation phase.

Simatech has benefited from KCIC’s mentorship program, through which they have attended trainings on strategy development, branding and taxation. With regards to the latter, Aloo states that it was particularly eye-opening.

“The tax workshop really hit home. We learned how to make a list of our expenses and realized that we could enjoy some tax relief,” Aloo says.

Advice for young, female entrepreneurs

The Simatech team is quite young, with ages ranging from 22-34. Aloo advises young people who have an idea to just begin.

“We often have great ideas, but we think it takes a giant, fancy ceremony to let you know it’s time to begin working. But it starts with baby steps- a few pieces of code here, putting some metal together there, writing a proposal. All you have to is just start,” Aloo maintains.   

(Another young entrepreneur: Bryan Lukano, converting cooking oil into renewable energy)

Furthermore, Olang is an inspiration for other female entrepreneurs who might be intimidated entering into a male-dominated space.

“I would tell the ladies that the cake is too big- all of us can fit in this space,” she says. “It’s high time that we learn to share our ideas. We might actually be the ones to change the world, but nothing will happen if we keep sitting on it.”

“Ladies are also very strong human beings,” Olang asserts. “We go through many hiccups and challenges in life, including motherhood, but we just have to keep on moving and appreciate the process.”
 

By: Alise Brillault

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