Leader Profile

Creating Local Energy Solutions for Pastoralist Communities

Jan 2022 | Tracy Kimathi, Founder of Baridi

Tracy Kimathi is a rising entrepreneur in Nairobi, but she remains committed to developing solutions for the community in which she was raised. Tracy grew up in Kenya’s pastoralist society, which depends on animal livestock as the main source of livelihood. While studying environmental science at Kenyatta University, she visited the United Nations Environmental Programme in Nairobi, where she participated in discussions on renewable energy as a tool for sustainable environmental solutions. This inspired her to capitalise on her local knowledge and make the leap directly from education to entrepreneurship.

Immediately after graduating in 2017, Tracy founded Tree_Sea.mals. Her first task was to conduct applied research on the provision, potential use, and affordability of solar energy in pastoralist communities across Isiola County and Marsabit Country in Northern Kenya as well as the Masai Mara in Southern Kenya. During this early stage, Tracy participated in the Microgrid Academy and ShelterTech Accelerator and, with her first grant award of USD 5,000, successfully bootstrapped a 1kW solar nano-grid prototype that is still operational. Her main focus in this ideation stage was to validate her vision of clean energy services for pastoralist communities with facts and statistics.

I have grown up around livestock producers so I understand the value chain. It is my community. `{`But`}` we had to do a study: it is one thing to assume based on our local knowledge, but we had to collect data to be sure.

In 2019, Tracy and her small team conducted a full-scale feasibility study for a 15kW follow-on project that would increase connections from 16 to 1,750. Although the social impact for rural electrification was clear, she realised there was a big challenge in terms of return on investment with up to 25-year break-even points. These margin incentives were too low for a growing start-up, so she pivoted the business model towards the more profitable area of productive use of energy. In order to keep the focus on supporting pastoralists, the company targeted solar-powered cold storage for livestock value chains.

Our exposure to accelerator programs gave us the courage to pivot. People are afraid to leave something and go onto the next thing. If you are a young African woman, especially, be brave. Work hard and take ‘no’ well – don’t be discouraged and keep going. It helps a lot to forgive failure.

Over the next year, Tracy conducted an intense round of fundraising and secured USD 300,000 from EEP Africa and other donors to kick-start Project Baridi. Design work on a solar cooling solution for meat preservation started towards the end of 2020. The assembly process was difficult and the product did not work the first three times. The technology of high rush current for cold rooms is complex and different components needed to be tested. The team hired solar and cold-room EPC contractors, consulted with Strathmore University’s Energy Research Centre, and got advice from a leader in the sector, SelfChill. After an intense year of work, they succeeded in building a working model and the first Baridi cold room was launched at the Burma Market in Nairobi in late 2021.

The team and I have designed, developed, implemented, and assembled our very own solar chiller. The average age of our executive team is 28 years old, so it was assembled in Kenya by Kenyan youths and we are extremely proud of that.

Baridi offers an affordable, pay-as-you-chill service that allows consumers to aggregate and store their meat as a community. A meat vendor that rents 1 cubic meter in the chiller can expect to annually save USD 5,000. When the first Baridi unit was installed at the market, it reached capacity (400kg) on the very first day. Within the first quarter of operations, Baridi is handling 1,000 kg per day and making a revenue of around USD 1,000 per month. In response to the genuine demand and need, Baridi plans to install 2-3 more units at Burma this year and then expand to other markets in Kenya and across East Africa.

Tracy’s impressive track record, in a very short span of time, has been recognised and awarded not only by EEP Africa but also by GoGettaz Generation Africa, MIT Solve, the Africa Prize for Engineering Innovation, the 2X Invest2Impact competition and other initiatives. As a young woman entrepreneur in a competitive and male-dominated sector, she has faced challenges and setbacks. But Tracy’s message to her peers is, as she says, “with great research, a kick-ass business model, and an even more riveting drive to achieve your vision, I don’t see why your start-up wouldn’t be amongst the leading businesses in your field.”

The market needed the technology – we knew they needed it, but we didn’t know they needed it that much. We didn’t do any marketing, just some consumer engagement to tell people we were coming. The fact that people needed it to a point where we didn’t need to market it was exciting. We hit our 70th client today.
In my experience Tracy has exceptional skill sets for one so young with regards to seeking out opportunities, then organising the physical, financial and human resources necessary to successfully develop and commercialise new services.

Alistair Murray – Managing Director, Vienga