Founded by Joseph Muchene, a Certified Public Accountant – Kenya, and Charles Muchene, an Electrical and Electronics Engineer, Cladlight wanted to develop a smart jacket for Kenya’s growing motorcycle transport industry informally called boda bodas.
The brothers conceptualized and designed a smart wearable and interactive jacket to help bicycle riders in East Africa to improve their visibility, day or night, while clearly showing intents to turn left, right or brake to avoid road accidents, which stood at over 3,000 to 10,000 a year according to WHO.
The two were selected to join an acceleration programme at the Nailab, a Narobi-based accelerator and a few weeks into it hired Michael Gathogo, a hardware enthusiast, as a project manager.
Competition after competition, the team mesmerized everyone with their innovation but like an idea too early for its time, Cladlight never signed up a huge government contract or motorcycle dealer or Sacco. If it did ship out any jacket, it was the only sample for Demo Days-famous pitch days where most African startups showcase their products and prove they are still alive even if they have no single customer.
With no funds to mass produce the indicator jackets which had transmission devices integrated to the motorcycle’s lighting or indication system, Cladlight had no future. With no subsidies to lower the prices to as low as $30 and still earn a profit, Cladlight was cursed to remain but a great idea on a website.
The idea was noble, when a rider brakes, the device in the jacket was to relay the signals wirelessly and turn on the lights on the jacket to warn the approaching car or rider that his colleague is about to either take a turn on a junction or stopping to drop or pick a passenger. If there was any single policy requiring this, maybe the government would have factored investing in them than the recent launch Huduma Card for cashless payments which died on launch.
Bart Lacroix, Director 1%Club said: “The new generation of African pioneers will no longer wait until the money floats to them. This Cheetah generation has innovative ideas and are enthusiastic and driven to kick-start their projects themselves. They want to show that they themselves can build their own country. The future of impact funding will move away from the classic top-down investments to more and more bottom up local crowdfunding matched by larger impact funds.”
Though more money was flowing into impact investing, Cladlight seemed to have missed it as well as other African social entrepreneurs who want to change the problems they see in their societies. They found it difficult to raise capital as they had no sales and no revenues. They had no hockey-stick growth, they were fresh graduates with less boardroom experience and their manufacturing costs couldn’t match the boda boda’s purchasing power in the streets.
There was no hardware innovation around before Able Wireless and BRCK came on the scene. Maybe the jackets would have been for hire or just simple stickers would have worked than entire jackets. It could be easier to argue that motorcycles already have indicators and the riders needed no complicated electrical jackets but the idea was noble and when Africa brings back bicycles and motorcycles back to our roads in some developed cities; the jackets will be a hit.