When Covid-19 hit Kenya in 2020, Paul Muhia, 27, saw an opportunity to venture into building electric bikes.
Mr Muhia is working to change the way we travel by helping people get out of their cars and onto electric bikes.
The youthful entrepreneur is the founder of Jua Bike, a young startup company based at Ngara in Nairobi City that aims to clean and offer environmental solutions.
The startup's major goal is to help Nairobi residents with clean and renewable energy solutions for public safety and environmental sustainability.
"Those who got on the e-bicycle for the first time can attest that it is exciting," says Muhia.
“It is fun to ride a bike down the street without experiencing traffic jams," he added.
Muhia, a 2018 electrical and electronics graduate of the Dedan Kimathi University of Technology, says he took the leap of faith moments after tough Covid-19 regulations disrupted the way people interact, travel and do business in the city.
"When people started working from home, there were fewer vehicles on the road as many people avoided gatherings. There was a growing challenge to deliver food from markets and supermarkets. I saw young people using bicycles to do deliveries but they faced challenges climbing hills," says Muhia.
Rising fuel prices
He continued: “I saw this as an opportunity to dive into the business and help them address the challenges they were facing including the rising fuel prices. Electric bikes have many advantages. I know this is the solution that is needed to ease commuters' woes and at the same time reduce harmful emissions."
He was forced to close down a motorcycle spare parts shop as the number of clients reduced.
"I saw a need to invest in zero-emission technology. I have watched as vehicles emit harmful gases in traffic," Muhia said.
He says his initial seed capital was Sh300,000 which he used to import three electric bicycles from the Asian market.
"I took a chunk of my savings and borrowed more from my friends to raise the initial capital," he says.
"It was expensive to import the e-bicycles by air but I managed to sell them at Sh150,000 and I saw it as a win-win situation," he says.
The steady rise in demand for the bikes has seen him open a workshop in Ngara, Nairobi.
"I'm able to pay Sh20,000 rent comfortably and still pay five members of staff their salaries," he says.
Muhia says the normal bicycles could be improved to e-bikes to suit the needs of his clients.
Depending on a customer's needs, improving an old bike into an electric bike costs between Sh30,000 to Sh55,000.
However, a brand new e-bike goes between Sh50,000 to Sh85,000.
"In a day, we get pre-orders of about five bikes. Our target is to deliver at least 100 bikes in a month," he adds.
In support of buying Kenya build Kenya, Muhia says he outsources the bicycle frames locally.
"We only import the conversion kit which includes a mortar, battery and a speed controller from the Asian market. By the end of this year, we want to have over 100 bikes on the road and by 2024, we want to have over 1,000 units," says Muhia.
Through the business, he has learned financial management, business plan and investor language which he did don learn in an engineering class.
He says the best way to decongest the city is to encourage more people to buy e-bikes and give them tax holiday rebates. One of the challenges Muhia has to grapple with is getting capital to expand the business.
"The business is capital intensive. The conversion kits are expensive due to global inflation. Another challenge is getting qualified technicians and that is why we are deliberately taking interns from colleges to build capacity not only for us but also for future market expansion," explains Muhia.
"We plan to open two more service centres along Waiyaki way and Ngong Road," says Muhia, adding that he is also planning to roll out charging hubs in fuel stations.
Muhia has built more than 20 electric bikes since he ventured into the business. He always invites student apprentices from universities and colleges to his Ngara workshop to teach them how to assemble and carry out maintenance of the bikes.
"I plan to start assembling a tricycle with a load carrying capacity of 300kg, especially for people with special needs who have mobility issues," says Muhia.
His startup won the Sh1.65 million award after emerging top in the third edition of the TotalEnergies Startup of the Year Challenge recently.
Muhia beat more than 1,000 entries to emerge top in the Best startup category that has been in existence for less than three years.
"I want to use the cash award from TotalEnergies to expand the business as the demand for an e-bike is rising by the day," says Muhia.
His clients include diplomats and clients from Tanzania and Uganda. The majority of our clients prefer e-bikes for various reasons including health.
"You don't need a licence or insurance to start using an e-bike. Besides, it can be a fitness tool for your health," says Muhia.
He says he also hires the bike at Sh300 per day to students and those offering delivery services in the city.
Apart from TotalEnergies, he has received support from Kenya Climate Centre to refine his business model.
He says his biggest joy is to see a city motorist or a young man or young woman pick up an e-bike and help lessen the carbon emissions.
He advises the young people wishing to start a similar business to do a market validation survey first.
"You must speak to the target market first before committing your resources. That way, you will lay a strong foundation for your business plan and expansion and you will never regret it," states Muhia.
He says his goal is to keep getting people out of their cars to use more affordable and sustainable forms of transportation.