Kenya’s Top Third Ventures
founded by Lucas Belenky
and Bjorn Hammar
November 9th 2011 but opened its first store March 29th 2013. The founder told TechMoran the 17 months between founding the company and opening the store were spent on design and setting up production.
They opened their first store in Ol Jabet, just outside Nyahururu in Laikipia Country, Kenya.
Their first product, an efficient cookstove named ‘”Baker” has two design aspects: functional and aesthetic. The functional aspects were designed by its team in Kenya based on 1,000+ hours of experience with the way rural Kenyans cook. The aesthetic design component was added by a European design firm that was ranked one of the top 4 design firms in the world in 2012 by Elle Decour. This brings both performance and beauty to the stove.
Produced 100% produced in Kenya, Lucas said, “The stove is designed to be used with firewood and has a thermal efficiency rating of 32%. The commonly used three-stone fire has a thermal efficiency rating of about 10% so our customers can reduce their wood usage by more than 2/3. Less wood and a higher combustion temperature means there is less dangerous gas produced during cooking and the food cooks faster.”
He added that they produced the stove to end deforestation after realising that 80%+ of Kenyans use biomass to cook, which causes rapid deforestation. Their stove reduces biomass demand by 2/3. The second problem their stove solves is indoor Air Pollution. Lucas says globally 4 million people die prematurely every year from indoor air pollution, mostly from cooking fumes, therefore the stove reduces smoke and pollutants produced from cooking.
Gender Inequality especially by rural women who spend all of their day collecting firewood, preparing food, working their farm (or running a small shop), and raising children was another problem they sought to end. Reducing the wood they need to collect and the time it takes to cook, frees up their valuable time and reduces their exposure to both animal and human predators when collecting wood.
Not every one knows the effects their activities have on the environment, but Climate Change is a problem caused due to use of firewood. Lucas told TechMoran that every stove produced will reduce global warming emissions by about 2.5 tonnes of CO2 per year. Globally the potential for reducing emissions through efficient cookstoves is 1 billion tonnes of CO2 per year.
Though the stoves arent a big hit in the country yet but Lucas says this is a worthy cause of employment which eventually leads to economic development. He said, “Our stores are located in rural areas which increases much needed employment opportunities in these areas. The production of the stove in Nairobi’s industrial area boosts the local manufacturing sector.”
The stove works through the rocket stove principle
. It is basically forced air flow and thermal insulation. This means that the heat doesn’t leave through the sides but is trapped in the combustion chamber and forced up to the pot. The forced air flow occurs because the passage through the stove narrows as the air heats up, this speeds up the flow of air and is called the Venturi Effect
. As the air moves through the system faster it creates a suction at the opening which pulls new air into the combustion area, creating a natural draft that speeds up the flow of oxygen to the fire.
Seeming Lucas and his team are already being felt. In slightly over 3 weeks of opening to the public for sell, the firm has sold 60 products to date and anticipate scaling up to 200 per month per store by September and then opening another 3 stores in Laikipia County before the end of the year.
The stoves are sold at below cost so they are affordable to their target customers. Top Third Ventures activities are registered with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to earn carbon credits, which can be sold to companies or government around the world. The revenue earned from carbon credits covers the subsidized stove price and funds the scaling of the project.
At the moment, there are several companies undertaking similar activities in Kenya such as CO2Balance, Burn Manufacturing, Envirofit, and Paradigm Project but Top Third Ventures is the only one of these companies that has the entire team based locally. They also say they own every aspect of the value chain, from production, to the carbon credit programme, through to the sales and distribution network. Unlike their competitors they believe that efficient stoves will only be successful if marketed as an aspirational product with strong brand value. Other efficient stove companies donate their products, relying solely on carbon credit revenues.
Top Third Ventures has to date spent USD 200,000, funds contributed by the founders, our friends & family, and angel investors. However, even with some cash to start, setting up domestic production was a big challenge.
Lucas says,”It was hard to find a facility willing to invest time and effort in such a small project. Our sales have slowed down in the last week because of heavy rains in the area where we are selling. Some of the roads have become impassable and 39 houses were washed away.”
The team is now running a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo,
a non-profit crowdfunding portal, which is gaining popularity and support. The firm is aiming to just sell 1,000+ stoves then large investors will inject the capital needed to scale the production and sales.
On Indiegogo, Top Third Ventures is seeking to raise enough money to continue selling and reach the 1,000 target, through donations from the US and Europe, but mainly through Kenyans or the Kenyan diaspora pre-buying the stove for themselves or someone they know in Kenya.