Tanzania-based Phenix Recycling is a bespoke waste management and recycling service for businesses in eastern and southern Africa. Athina Kyriakopoulou, founder and CEO, answers our questions.

1. Give us your elevator pitch.

Businesses across the East Africa region are struggling with the issue of how to responsibly manage their waste. At the same time, local innovative startups using waste as a resource are lacking reliable and predictable access to their waste. Phenix Recycling is connecting the two, creating an “uninterrupted power supply” for waste and enabling a circular economy across geographies, industries and sectors.

2. How did you finance your startup?

To date, Phenix has been funded solely by founder capital of around US$50,000. This gave us a two-year runway in which we piloted three versions of our business model, and successfully serviced clients across two countries and two industries.

3. If you were given US$1m to invest in your company now, where would it go?

That investment would be spent on purchasing new equipment and setting up long-term hubs in two of our main locations. This includes machinery and items that would allow us to work more efficiently and reduce the upstream cost of our services by making our processed material more valuable downstream.

4. What risks does your business face?

Phenix is one of the first of its kind therefore at the forefront of a new formal industry. This means that we are competing with informal sectors while trying to build the awareness around the need for our services. Navigating the regulatory environment is also a challenge as we have an innovative businesses model that is not fully regulated yet.

5. So far, what has proven to be the most successful form of marketing?

By far the best form of marketing is word of mouth through business networks. As a new company and trying to build a new industry, happy and satisfied business customers are the key to acquiring new customers. Particularly in established industries like tourism, where businesses tend to follow the pack. Once you have your foot in the door by satisfying a few key leaders in their field, the rest will follow and it won’t be long until its “industry standard”.

6. Describe your most exciting entrepreneurial moment.

When I received my first revenue. Running a B2B business is drastically different from B2C, in that clients take a lot longer to acquire, sometimes over eight months; particularly your first clients. So when I had my first paying client, it was a huge success and milestone.

 7. Tell us about your biggest mistake, and what have you’ve learnt from it?

I think my biggest mistake was making operational investments into teams and facilities before having the customers signed and sealed. No matter how promising a customer is, they aren’t a customer until pen touches paper. Also, during the validation phase, a customer who signs up with a huge discount, does not validate willingness nor the ability to pay for the service. You need customers who pay full price to prove your model.