Barclay Paul – How This Young Man Founded A Unique Company That Helps Low Income Earners In Kenya And East Africa

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Success comes when opportunity meets preparedness. You have to be prepared at all times in every aspect of life so that when opportunity comes, you grab it and achieve success. Barclay Paul Okari is the founder and CEO of Impact Africa Industries. An industry that manufactures and distributes reusable, washable and affordable sanitary towels for females and baby diapers for low-income earners in Kenya and East Africa.

He developed interest in business at the tender age of 13. He writes and keeps a list of potential businesses he feels will be feasible and viable, which he still does till date. He is ever ready for any business opportunity that comes his way. Barclay endured hardship and struggle all the way until he was became successful.

According to Barclay, where he is today is the totality of the decisions he made along his way to the top both good and bad, because there is no specific way or pattern to become a successful entrepreneur. You just have to fathom yourself, take the risk, learn from mistakes and enjoy the success when it comes.

Barclay was listed among the 30 most promising young entrepreneurs in Africa from 2014-2016 by Forbes. He was also a speaker at the Global Entrepreneurship summit in Morocco organised by the American Government.

Early Days

Barclay paul was born in the year 1989 in Kenya. His father owned a supermarket in Kilgoris while his mother was a teacher.

In 1997, when Barclay was about 7 years old, the family experienced election violence in which their home was destroyed. With the fear of what to happen next, Barclay and his sister were sent to live with a relative in Kisii. There Barclay paul learnt to survive on his own and he did many things to make money including selling some items from his father’s warehouse just to get some pocket-money. He  worked as a cashier at a relative’s grain shop which later affected his grades in school and when his parents found out,  he was sent to a boarding school. There will always be no place like home!

He attended Friends School Kamusinga for high school. In 2010, he joined Strathmore University to study Business Studies but didn’t complete his studies. He moved to the University of Nairobi where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce with a major in Finance.

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Moving from failures to success

Barclay became business minded from a very young age. When he was in form 2, his entrepreneur spirit sprang up. He joined a science convention where students showcased their innovations. He showcased a digital platform called Skype Science where students could discuss and share educational knowledge and their innovations through online videos. This was motivated by stories of people who made money and he aspired to be like them.

After the convention, he needed Ksh 150,000 to push the innovation to the market. His parents offered to sponsor him after learning about the idea. He registered the site and he needed more money for marketing but the wasn’t able to raise the needed funds. So the business failed.

In 2009, when he completed his high school, he ventured into another platform called Market Place. An online platform where buyers and sellers meet to transact business. This also failed.
Barclay started another forum with his friends in 2010. They organized Kenya Youth Economic forum but when his friends lost interest and was left all alone, he also quit when it clashed with school schedule in Strathmore University.

While in the University of Nairobi, he visited Mai Mahiu on a community project with his friends on a community service, he volunteered himself as a teacher in his leisure time in a Girls High School in Narok county, a small town in South – western Kenya since they do not have much teachers. There he found out the gap in the market and the need to help the females in the community. And that was how his breakthrough came forth.

In the course of teaching, he observed that two or more girls skip school on daily basis. On inquiries, he learnt that most of the girls are from poor families. Hence, they could not afford regular sanitary pads so they stay at home during their monthly period. This provided a research question for Barclay! He searched the internet and was astonished to find out that the statistics of this problem is high in Africa, so he offered to find a solution.

First, Barclay rallied friends to help him raise funds to buy sanitary pads for the girls. This was achieved but after 3 months the girls ran out of pads again. At this point, he decided to look for a permanent solution.

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Barclay needed a start-up capital of Ksh 300,000 which was not within his reach. He approached his parents but he was turned down since he could not account for the first Ksh 150,000 given to him to invest on Skype Science and they really wanted him to complete his education. But he did not relent. He brought in an artisan who designed a local version of the machine used in manufacturing pads and he used the rent money given to him by his parents to rent a workshop in Thika town and the remaining to buy materials needed for production.

Using the knowledge gained from internet, he started making sanitary towels but income was not yet seen so he moved to Kitale close to his family house. He rented another workshop in Kitale and became completely broke but he was determined to continue his production so he depended on women who provided free labour for him and used a family friend’s truck to transport materials from Nairobi.

According to Barclay, no day is same as last. Every morning we wake up to a different challenge which makes life full of fun. Also the biggest misconception is that entrepreneurship is easy but the truth is that it is made up of so many sleepless nights, work, work and work and the enthusiasm to reach where you are going. He believes in putting in many hours doing the dirty work.

Things became so bad that he could not afford a proper packaging for the products he made. Most times, he delivered the product by using newspaper to wrap it. After seeing his struggles, his parents decided to loan him Ksh 150,000. With this, he prepared a business plan and met several banks for loan but they all turned their back at him. He searched the internet for alternative funding and came across Anzisha prize grant funded by the Africa Leadership Academy and MasterCard foundations. He applied for it and luckily for him, he was the prize winner for the African Oscar for young entrepreneurs and was given a grand prize of Ksh 200,000.

According to him, the award made his company and product known – an avenue for awareness and hence met new clients. He used the money to purchase new machinery.
Barclay joined Nairobi Global Shapers- an impact oriented business community affiliated to the World Economic Forum. While in the group, a man who saw his enthusiasm and was willing to take the bull by the horn, wrote a cheque to invest on the business even before seeing the business plan. This gave a new face to the business.

His companies today

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Today Impact Africa Industries produces Safi pads, a kit which contains six reusable pads and two adjustable pants. Barclay’s ultimate goal is to build an African conglomerate, invest in various sectors, create more jobs and push Africa’s economy to the next growth stage. Safi pads is currently distributed in Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria, East Africa with Kenya being the biggest market.

Barclay Paul was listed among 30 most promising young entrepreneurs under 30 in Africa by Forbes in 2014. One of the Social entrepreneurs to watch (under 35 CEO) by Spark Fellow. Top 40 under 40 men in Kenya by the Business Daily. One of the 7 entrepreneur to watch globally by the United Nations foundation and among 20 people changing the world by MTV voices.

Barclay is also a co-founder of Kopa credit, a company that provides credit scores to millions of unbanked people in emerging market and provide them with quick and affordable credit in 2016.

Barclay Paul was 22 years old when he founded Impact Africa Industries in 2011 and his success story is an inspiration to young entrepreneurs around the world, especially in Africa. He persisted, struggled, worked hard until he made it this far.

About the writer:

This was written by Chiamaka Uduezue, content contributor at MyAfribusiness.com. She is a graduate of Environmental Management and enjoys learning new things and sharing knowledge with others.

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