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In the heart of Tanzania, Hellena Sailas, the CEO and founder of Arena Recycling Industry, leads a relentless charge against the looming spectre of plastic waste pollution. Her cleantech start-up’s mission is simple: to repurpose discarded plastic waste into eco-friendly construction materials – an approach that not only tackles environmental devastation but also heralds a new era of affordable, sustainable building solutions.
Sailas is among the start-up founders currently attending the AfricArena Nairobi Summit held at Nairobi Street Kitchen in the Kenyan capital. Earlier this week, she also attended a two-day start-up bootcamp hosted on the banks of Lake Naivasha.
While the battle against plastic pollution is fierce, Sailas says her journey has been illuminated by AfricArena’s series of events this week. The continent-wide tech ecosystem accelerator has armed her with insights to navigate the intricate landscape of cleantech innovation.
“They offer an invaluable platform for startups like Arena Recycling to become investor-ready. This involves refining our strategies, conducting comprehensive assessments of our strengths and weaknesses, and preparing us to engage with potential investors and partners,” she says.
Additionally, she is harnessing the networking opportunities to build bridges that extend beyond mere business transactions. She says, “This has been incredibly valuable. Connecting with fellow start-up founders from across Africa has provided invaluable insights into how businesses are run in different contexts.”
One of the highlights of Sailas’s networking journey at AfricArena was her conversation with Rotimi Thomas, CEO and co-founder of Nigerian climate-tech start-up SunFI, which recently secured a seed funding round of $2.3 million.
Sailas sought to uncover the secrets of their success and Rotimi’s response resonated deeply: “Having a great idea is crucial, but it’s equally important to demonstrate how effectively you can execute it.”
He further underscored the power of networks, emphasising the need to maintain and leverage them effectively, mirroring the challenges faced by many African start-ups in the cleantech sector.
Her interactions also extended to Mélanie Keïta, the co-founder and CEO of Melanin Kapital, a climate fintech platform that uses climate data to provide access to finance to African SMEs. Keïta shared her experiences working with investors. Sailas says, “She advised that it’s crucial to understand your business’s specific needs at each stage, whether it’s grants, angel investors, or venture capital.”
Keïta’s emphasis on the intricate journey of securing investments painted a vivid picture of the path ahead for Arena Recycling Industry. In a metaphor that encapsulated the complexity of investor relations, she likened these contracts to “short-term marriages,” highlighting the significance of clarity and alignment with investors’ visions.
Meanwhile, Sailas is hopeful that her engagement with potential investors at AfricArena will prove to be a game-changer for Arena Recycling Industry. During the bootcamp, she had the privilege of connecting with investors and enablers who demonstrated a genuine interest in their sustainability initiatives. This includes Startupbootcamp AfriTech chief executive Philip Kiracofe.
As Sailas embarks on the path to engage with investors who recognise the profound importance of her start-up’s mission, her vision extends far beyond financial gains. It’s a vision grounded in the belief that sustainable change is not just an aspiration; it’s an imperative for our planet.
Sailas states, “Building connections with investors is vital for any start-up, and AfricArena provides an ideal platform for this. I look forward to engaging with potential investors who understand the importance of our mission and are willing to support us financially, enabling us to expand our impact.”