Chebet Lesan, the founder and CEO of BrightGreen Renewable Energy, speaks to The EastAfrican about the company and winning the 2020 Jack Ma Foundation Africa Business Heroes competition.
Fate and fortune have a way of placing people in paths they never anticipated. Paths that either overrun or streamline one’s life. This could not be truer for me.
My name is Chebet Lesan, the founder and CEO of BrightGreen Renewable Energy and the winner of the second edition of Jack Ma Foundation’s Africa Business Heroes.
Except that I had dreamed of a fulfilling job upon graduation, I never imagined bagging a prestigious award. Leave alone winning such a prize in a year that coronavirus ravaged the globe.
My parents allowed me to be an inquisitive child, a trait that I have carried along. I questioned even the most obvious scenarios like where the sun comes from. In adulthood, my life revolves around finding solutions to problems.
Patience. Resilience. Humility
It is funny how I never thought my childhood life would replay in future, and that I would derive satisfaction from how the replaying version unfolds, I currently find gratification in solving problems. I have devoted my life to solving a problem I find common to most households by providing the households with cheap, safe cooking fuel.
This is the vision I had when I founded BrightGreen Renewable Energy, firm that deals in making cheaper cooking fuel alternative to the under-served communities.
When I put the first foot in this entrepreneurial marshland, it seemed herculean. To my family, it was a far-fetched idea and sounded delusional, so, I had to shoulder the weight of the vision.
At the university, I studied Industrial Design. The course is basically the science behind building a product. It involves identifying a problem, and curating a product that would eventually solve whatever problem identified. And, that was where my passion lied. Upon graduation, this is the very skill I yearned to put to use and use it to curate solutions to at least one problem we face in our daily lives.
In 2012, therefore, I could not think of any better undertaking than an environment friendly yet cheap alternative compared with other sources of cooking fuel and BrightGreen Renewable Energy was born.
BrightGreen is a conglomeration of three virtues. Patience. Resilience. Humility. The trio reflect in our products, how we treat our clients, the entire process of turning the raw material to the final product that is safer and the continuous learning process we incorporate to improving the products.
Fast forward to April 2020, my team at BrightGreen and I dipped our leg in the Jack Ma Foundation Africa Business Heroes competition and emerged winners. It attracted over 22,000 applicants. Getting to Top 50 was refreshing, boosted my confidence. By the time I was listed in the top 10, I was already at peace to accept any result.
From the moment we decided to participate in the programme, I knew it would be tough before yielding. I was ready for the challenge and as the CEO, I once more felt the weight on my shoulders as the holder of the vision. I understood too well that it would involve great sacrifice.
I went through the competition's terms and conditions, the videos online, and thinking how overwhelming a task it would be should I sign up. And, true as my instincts intimated, it was mentally taxing.
While it was both exciting and fortifying to win Ksh33 million ($330,000) from the competition, no feeling nothing beats the thoughts knowing that I am positively impacting lives. In days that I have fulfilled this mission, I sleep soundly and wake up in the morning with very many solutions to different issues that need my attention to solve.
BrightGreen, is still young and a lot of our processes are still manual. So the prize is largely an enabler for us to grow bigger. I plan to use the funds to mechanise the entire value chain and also just to build on operational efficiency across the company.
As a woman in business, interestingly, I do not think of myself as better as an employee or a CEO. One thing I know about myself is, if there is a task that needs to be done, I will get it done. Whether I am working as a leader or supporting somebody else to do something. That is just typical Chebet; I get things done.
I awaken by 6am to pray and, by 6.30am, I am ready to start my day. I then walk for a few minutes around my hood. My 8am to 4pm is dedicated to growing my venture. Weekends are solely dedicated to my family.
Throughout my journey to build an empire, I am always saddened whenever someone questions my ability to perform a task based on my gender and my age instead of anchoring the discussions on the expertise and knowledge I bring to the table. I am however learning how to be comfortable with things that I cannot change in myself and strive to be the best leader I can be.
A tough lesson I learnt in the entrepreneurial journey is: The role family plays in the success of an entrepreneur is vital, it is the lifeline in the survival of a business. Because businesses are built off belief, if the people around you do not help you to believe, by believing with you then it becomes very difficult for your plans to actualise.
I now know that winning the family’s belief is usually one of the most difficult hurdle for any entrepreneur.
In campus, I balanced studies and interning in a number of companies where I got a lot of early lessons for my career. Upon graduation, I learnt that as a visionary, not everybody sees the vision. And, now as a CEO, I know my team look upon me for guidance involving day-to-day running of my venture. That responsibility requires my mind and spirit to be still. Always. Even in the midst of a storm.