Eric Kinoti, 28, is taking East Africa with a buzz and is now one of the continent’s youngest millionaires.
On 4 February, this year, he was listed by Forbes magazine among the 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa 2014.
His is a story of a man who grew up selling eggs and food to schools. However, his eye-opener came when a customer asked if he could supply a tent for an event — a request that has grown into Shade Systems East Africa.
Mr Kinoti is the founder of Shades System East Africa, a company that is making Sh80 million a year. It manufactures military and relief tents, branded gazebos, restaurant canopies, car parking shades, marquees, luxury tents, wedding party tents, canvas seats, and bouncing castles. It has buyers across East Africa.
Based in Nairobi’s Westlands area, the company exports its products to Somalia, Congo, and Rwanda. At the moment, Mr Kinoti has 18 full-time employees.
Shades Systems buys raw materials and customises them according to project specifications and customer taste. Turkey and South Korea are its key sources of raw materials, especially those that are not available locally.
The first tent he supplied was the impetus that gave birth to Shade Systems East Africa, a company that has now acquired a global face.
So what is his secret? Mr Kinoti says that business is about being focused and staying true to your commitment.
“I was so committed to seeing my business grow that I had to ensure that I pulled out all the stops so that I succeed. That even saw me go to a shylock for my seed capital. I asked for Sh1 million loan,” he says.
Currently, the canvas maker is servicing a tender that involves fixing tents in the 47 counties in Kenya for one of its international clients.
“I am travelling to the US to make new partnerships and forge fresh relationships for the betterment of my business,” Mr Kinoti told Money.
His is a story of how humble beginnings have turned into a firm that is now worth millions of shillings.
“The need and determination to succeed gave me the impetus to see my company flourish,” he notes.
And just last week, Mr Kinoti left for the US to attend an international conference organised by a New York business school. Thanks to his meteoric rise, he has been invited to address participants on entrepreneurial skills, affirming the fact that hard work can take one to the world stage.
“I never knew that I would stand in front of fellow millionaires to talk about the African continent,” he says.
Mr Kinoti is among three young African millionaires who will address the meeting. The others are Issam Chleuh (Mauritania), CEO of Africa Impact Group, and Sangu Julius Delle (Ghana), chairperson and chief executive, Golden Palm Investments.
Manufacturing tents and shades is not Mr Kinoti’s only business. His entrepreneurial acumen has also seen him establish and run another firm — Safi Sana Home Cleaning Services.
The company is tailored to provide thorough, timely, and professional cleaning services for individuals and companies.
His cleaning outfit is picking up well and, according to Mr Kinoti, great things start small.
“The company makes about Sh3 million a month,” says Mr Kinoti.
The young businessman is also setting up another business, Bagbase Kenya. The enterprise will specialise in manufacturing of college bags, school bags, laptop bags, clutch bags, leather bags, and even men bags, he says.
“We want to create jobs and ensure that the African success story is also told in another form that is appealing to the world,” says Mr Kinoti.
The youthful millionaire is currently globe trotting, meeting like-minded millionaires across the globe and seeking to forge fresh links to the spur growth of his business.
From the US, Mr Kinoti will fly to Liberia for a business conference. For him, the world is his oyster.