journey into entrepreneurship started with an Aiducation scholarship that financed Darleen’s high school education from 2008 onwards. In 2014, she participated in the first Aiducation-Swiss Re Start-up Academy, where the idea of her start-up “Tomato Splash” was born. Only one and a half year later, her farm produces up to 8 tonnes locally-poduced high-quality tomatoes per week. In an interview, Darleen tells us how everything started, what challenges she was facing and how Aiducation supported her business.
Darleen, what is the idea behind “Tomato Splash”?
My start-up aims at reducing food insecurity in Kenya. Moreover, it encourages the youth along the coast to be independent of tourism as an income generator, and thus to be independent of fluctuations in their salaries. Tomato Splash offers these people the possibility to venture into new fields of self-employment and also creates job opportunities for them. I have an acre which is divided into 4 quarters each having one thousand tomato trees. Each of them produces 2 tonnes of tomatoes per week if the harvest is good. I therefore require all the skilled labor I can get.
How did you come up with your small business idea?
Splash was not my initial idea during the first Swiss Re Start-up Academy. However, I joined a group which had a start-up idea in the field of agriculture and there Tomato Splash was born. I chose tomatoes because no meal in Kenya can be prepared without tomatoes. Also, there was demand for tomatoes since the current suppliers of tomatoes came from miles away and the tomatoes were therefore not delivered fresh for consumption.
What role did Aiducation play in the success of your business?
Oh, my Aiducation family has really supported me – starting from my AiduMaker who has always been in touch with me and interested in knowing the progress of my start-up. At the Aiducation academies, I was able to learn how to keep my business records and how to market my products. Also, the Aiducation staff and AiduAlumni have been there to motivate me when things were not going right and guided me in the right direction.
Were there any challenges you were facing when you started your project?
I have faced several challenges that led to the loss of close to 200,000 kshs. This happened due to managing my start-up from a far distance when I was still at school in Nairobi, as the farm is in Watamu. However, I am grateful to Aiducation and Swiss Re that I was given a second try.
What does a normal working day for you look like?
Being a full time business lady, a normal day at the office includes making deliveries very early in the morning, then going to the farm for half a day and then back to the market for more deliveries. In the evening I take the orders for the next day supply. When I have may orders, I get someone on a casual work basis to help me with the delivery.
What is the most memorable feedback you have ever received on your project?
Having been featured on Kenyas national television, I have received a lot of positive feedback from friends and family. My clients are always happy with my products, too, but the best feedback was when the head of Swiss Re and his team tasted a Tomato Splash tomato, and said that the taste was out of this world: sweet , juicy and tasty.
What are the future plans for Tomato Splash?
I am sure the future is bright for Splash. My dream is that soon Splash will be an international brand and that my products are also displayed in your local supermarket.
Is there anything else you want to share about your start-up?
Splash has been a learning experience for me and with my determination I want to be a long-term example for the other start-ups. Let’s promote entrepreneurship and education in Kenya to help build a better nation.