Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Starting a Business in Kenya: The Hyacinth Lab

Life sure has been moving slow over the past few months. Took my Medical Board Exams at the end of September (which was a bust), now I have to wait till the end of April to take the next round of exams. In the meantime, I’m hoping to launch a business which has been something of a hobby/side-project of mine since right around 2006. Yep, this finds me delving into my second love: Environmental Science.

In my opinion, many opportunities abound for turning a profit from these common everyday annoyances that we typically complain about. Think Not? Just last month we were treated to a turf war fought by some thugs over the lucrative business that is ‘the trash debacle of Dandora’. As it is right now, Dandora is a massive environmental hazard, and could really use some government/private intervention to convert it into a useful model for garbage collection/sorting/recycling/energy co-generation…not the current mess that it is. The technology and expertise for this is readily available and Sweden is making quite a killing ‘mining’ their garbage stream.

That might end up being something that I end up looking into. To start with though, I want to deal with the Water Hyacinth menace that plagues our fresh water bodies. The fastest growing fresh water plant poses quite a difficulty in management if your only recourse is trying to manually clear it and poison it; my approach is to make its biomass as valuable as possible (through tapping into the weed’s many uses). With that incentive for harvesting appended to its reputation, I eventually hope to help establish a massive constructed wetland, which could be populated with the weed, and have it harvested at 10 week cycles.

The business – currently known as “The Hyacinth Lab” – aims to be more than just a hyacinth research venture; in addition, I’m hoping to track other environmental issues (i.e. Mesquite, affordable housing materials, etc.) and develop sustainable appropriate technology solutions to these problems. So, there you have the skin-and-bones of a concept that’s developed in the course of writing two papers on Phytoremediation.

What’s scaring me about all this is getting the funding to carry out this venture. Love the science bit…but just don’t know how to come up with the funding. A bunch of promising business incubators have been established lately that offer some hope, but I’d have to have a business for them to offer any help. Some initiatives like “The Uwezo Fund” also appear promising, but they can also only be used to promote a pre-existent business. I no longer have the pleasure of being in College, so I can’t have this covered under collaborative school research, so I have to approach this as a total independent researcher.
Take home point here is that I best get a business started…and start a business is what I’m trying to do. I’m going for a simple sole-proprietorship run out of my home, with the hope that I can collaborate with a lab to get my research done (already solicited the Kenya Industrial Research & Development Institute, KIRDI for just such a purpose). Also working on the Business Plan so that I’d have some semblance of a document that can spark an intelligent conversation with a potential investor.

All business registration in Kenya happens at the Attorney General’s office under the Registrar of Companies. The process I basically have to follow is to
  1. Run a name search to ensure that my desired business name isn’t already taken + sh. 100.
  2. Fill out a “Statement of Particulars” form detailing my info and submit it + sh. 900.
  3. Await a Certificate of Registration once all the stuff has been approved.
Simple enough, it would appear. I figured that the name I chose – The Hyacinth Lab – was pretty unique, so I only had them run a search for that one name (it costs sh. 100 per name submitted). In two days time, they let me know that they had successfully reserved the name for me to pursue further action for a period of one month.
Next up, I filled out the Statement of Particulars, but then I run into a roadblock: the Desk Clerk. In his ‘educated’ opinion, a business that included the word “LAB” MUST have some affiliation with MEDICINE or CHEMICALS; not only that, but according to this rationale, only a Lab Technician could own this type of a company, and thus I was summarily expected to submit my technician certificates.
All this bright recommendations come in the face of the existence of a BUSINESS INCUBATOR in Nairobi known as the NaiLab

Well, there is no arguing with ‘the boss’, so I’m basically stuck right now. I was hoping to pass by their offices on a different day on the off-chance that I might find a different more sensible desk clerk (probably a lady), but I’ve had no such luck. I only have two options here
  1. Change the proposed name of my business and run another name search in the hope that it’s not taken.
  2. Keep my desired name and just get a lawyer to blast through this process and wanton bureaucracy, and get me what I need.
I think I’ll be going with option 2 so I can just have some peace of mind. Thank you ‘Digital Government’ for making a simple process frightfully frustrating. I can only imagine how much discomfort your arbitrary rules contribute to people who are just trying to start a business, make an honest living and add something to our young economy. You guys really need to improve.
In the spirit of helping the Registrar of Companies catch up with the digital age (something which we are currently being beaten to the punch by RWANDA of all countries), here is a suggestion (or two)
  1. Totally digitize the name search process. There is no need to have a bunch of people sweating it out to line up in a stuffy hall to submit a piece of paper. Have the database of registered businesses online and allow people to cross-check their potential business names against that list FOR FREE!
    This would speed up the name search process by eliminating the 2 day wait time.
  2. You definitely need to improve your website to make it easy for prospective business people (most of whom are new to the procedures) to find the pre-requisite forms (along with examples of PROPERLY FILLED-OUT FORMS), conventions for naming business and other rules and regulations.
    Think about it this way: A headache saved in having matters elucidated to the public, is a headache saved in having to peruse through incorrectly filled forms and submissions.
Well, once I get this disgust outta my mouth from this last experience, I’m off to find myself a lawyer. Wish me luck!

Have a great day.

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