“We can contribute, no matter how small”

Entrepreneurs

“We can contribute, no matter how small”

Piwai Chikasha and Takudzwa Chipadza are engineers by training, development professionals at heart who won the ILO’s Green enterPRIZE in Zimbabwe.

Two men standing around their drones

We thought: We’re aeronautical engineers, what can we do?” Piwai said. “We want to create solutions not only for Zimbabwe, but for Africa.

Though both from Zimbabwe, they started as strangers at an aeronautical engineering college in Ukraine. There, Piwai and Takudzwa developed a mutual interest in development, as well as a friendship, which quickly turned into a business partnership.

After graduating and moving back to their home country, they started toying with different project ideas in earnest. No idea was off the table.

We always had this idea of transferring all the knowledge we gained in Europe back to Zimbabwe.

They decided that the agricultural industry, with its ubiquitous, polluting diesel-powered tractors, was a valuable starting point. After extensive research and a thorough market analysis, Piwai and Takudzwa co-founded their smart agriculture and engineering company, Alley Capital Group. It primarily provides crop-spraying services for farmers via drone.

Their battery-powered drones are nearly twice as efficient and eliminate the need for diesel fuel. The technology improves the quality of the crops, decreases environmental harm, and allows farmers to work more quickly and efficiently.

In Zimbabwe, going green is not really something we talk about,” Piwai said. “But we can contribute, no matter how small.

Three men around a drone

They found out about the ILO’s Green enterPRIZE competition through their connections with the SME Association of Zimbabwe. They are the first-prize winners in the “best young entrepreneurs” category.

Green enterPRIZE is a business competition created by the ILO and implemented with the help of local business development service providers. In its first year, it has helped Zimbabwean entrepreneurs strengthen their green and growth-oriented businesses.

Small- and medium-sized business owners benefit from either financial or capacity-building services. First-prize winners gain access to both.

Piwai and Takudzwa won $5,000 and 12 months of business development services for Alley Capital Group.

Drone in the air

It was exciting to win,” Piwai recalled. “I keep playing it over in my head. It was a dream come true.

As primarily technical workers, both felt inspired by meeting the other entrepreneurs participating in the competition at training sessions and the final awards ceremony.

“It’s opened up avenues for business collaborations and synergies,” Takudzwa said. “Something greener is going to come out of those interactions.”

The pair is enthusiastic about developing larger drone systems for bigger farms. They have already established relationships with the Ministry of Agriculture, the farmer’s union of Zimbabwe, and a local agricultural college.

Sustainability is one of Alley Capital Group’s top priorities, in both its environmental and social dimensions.

“We’re always studying how we can extend the product, how we can dispose of it in a greener way,” Piwai said. “We’re looking at all aspects of our operations.”

Three men behind a drone

They are also conscious of their business’s impact on local communities.

“We are concerned about the job loss aspect,” Piwai said. “That’s why we want to involve the people that are already involved.”

Piwai and Takudzwa plan to train local workers to operate the equipment, work with colleges to explore adapting courses of study, and enter social partnerships. They’re also looking to their country’s past to innovate for its future.

If we were to really go on the ground and find out how African farmers were protecting their chemicals several years ago, I’m sure there’s a significant opportunity to come up with something that is more traditional, more organic.

Originally published on the Green Enterprize website.