African women are innovative, courageous and enterprising and so are Eleanor, Rumbidzai and Kundai; the Soko sisters who have jointly shifted the stakes and mounted a steadfast anchor upon which their family and community are now hinged.
The sisters had a broad range of girly attractions to choose from: hair, makeup, jewelry and even clothing, but they chose Mushrooms. Yes, the good old yummy Mushrooms. Mushrooms are an excellent food and delicacy in many cultures across the world. They are a rich source of protein, low in calories, fat-free, cholesterol-free, gluten-free, and contain several important nutrients.
Eleanor and her sisters, Rumbidzai and Kundai partnered to found in Ruwa, Zimbabwe in February 2012 to fill the gap they noticed in the market and at the same time save their family farm from ruin. ‘Soko’ actually means ‘monkey’ (in Shona, their local language).
Growing up on the farm, the girls were taught to be independent and entrepreneurial by their parents who were known to be successful commercial farmers in the village. They remember growing their own vegetable gardens, milking the cows and feeding the chicken and pigs from a very young age.
When Kundai graduated from college in the USA at the end of 2011, she returned home to find their family farm in ruins. The huge expanse of fertile land had been overgrown with weeds and was poorly managed. Disappointed, Kundai took up the challenge to reverse the trend and save her family heritage from extinction.
She shared her thoughts and business idea with her sisters and asked that they partner with her in the new venture. The girls immediately pledged their support and with the same can-do spirit they had fostered as young girls growing up on the family farm, they went to work and in a few months, there business was registered.
In a short while, roles were defined. Eleanor who had worked in agricultural development and trade policy in the US and already had a company of her own in Mali, was made to focus on the strategy for Soko, while Rumbidzai who had been working for the family convenience store retail business, decided to cover the finance and marketing division, especially since she already had a clear understanding of business regulations in Zimbabwe and had relationships with wholesalers.
Kundai on the other hand was the most interested and skilled partner in mushroom farming and so she focused on operations and outreach.
The trio embarked on market research, to understand their market and discover potential customers. They visited research institutions, supermarkets, wholesalers and nurseries, and asked a lot of questions. Through their research they found that most of the mushrooms available in Zimbabwe were being imported and this opened up a novel business angle for them to supply mushrooms locally, and in a few weeks, they found local buyers who were willing to buy from them.
The sisters didn’t rest in their victories, instead, they worked even harder and sought ways to improve themselves further. Kundai, the operations and outreach manager enrolled in an intensive mushroom growing course. They also bought several books, watched videos and hired a consultant to provide additional technical services. With their little savings, the entrepreneurs began investing in mushroom growing equipment. And as business improved, they began hiring staff, and in a short while, they built several grow houses and a packing shed. Business was booming!
As with almost every start up, the business faced its fair share of challenges, top on the list was raising enough capital to float. In December 2013, Kundai decided that the best way for the business to move progress was to have someone dedicated full time to it. And so, she quit her banking job and went full time into farming.
Today, that little start-up has grown into an exceedingly thriving venture and a model to many other businesses.
The sisters currently supply major supermarkets in Harare with fresh and dried button and oyster mushrooms. They recently added mushroom spices to their growing list of value-added mushroom products.
Following several requests from aspiring mushroom farmers, they have also launched a mushroom training school to provide training and support to new farmers. Their vision is to grow their empire into the solution their country needs. To reignite the Zimbabwe agriculture sector by creating livelihoods and jobs.
Eleanor, Rumbidzai and Kundai found a gap, and immediately took the initiative to fill it. The truth is, there’s ALWAYS a gap, but the question is, how ready are we to spot them and fill them? Find the gap!