Where most youngsters would opt for a business degree before stepping into business, Ropafadzo Zimunya and Munashe Musarurwa did it the other way around.
In a small town named Mutare in Zimbabwe, just out of high school, the now 20-year-olds looked inwardly for inspiration, and found it in their backyards.
The co-founders of a company named Greenit Diversified Group, they make baking flour out of bananas. Such unconventional thinking came from need, and their research on alternative foods – most likely, the future of food in Africa.
“I think alternative foods are the next big thing on the market because of the way Africa itself is going,” says Musarurwa, also the operations manager of Greenit.
The two finished high school in 2016 and was dabbling with some business ideas when they came across alternative products for bananas.
“My partner was like ‘there’s something called banana flour, have you ever heard of it’?” Zimunya, Greenit’s CEO, tells FORBES AFRICA.
“I was like no, ‘but let’s do it, let’s try it out’. And we have bananas in our backyard, so why not?’”
So the two harvested the green bananas, dried them and crushed them into powder, not sure if this was going to end up as a disastrous science lab experiment. Thankfully, it didn’t.
“It’s not something we invented, it was there traditionally. The thing is the traditional one does not outperform wheat flour,” says Zimunya.
The pair played around with different ingredients, and permutations and combinations until they came up with a breakthrough product that morphed into better flour.
Immediately, Zimunya wrote down a business plan. With their final product, they reached out to a local baker as prospective suppliers. “Am I seriously going to use banana flour to make cupcakes?” he asked them.
Eventually, the pair were able to convince him. The baker prepared a batch of cupcakes with their flour and they were a success.
“We were actually surprised at how well it came out, because I was sceptical at first,” says Zimunya.
They later advertised their product to other bakers, farmers and the community.
“We were looking for millions, and in our dreams we thought it would happen in a day, but when we started going around telling people, they thought we were crazy!” says Zimunya.
Word got around in the streets of Mutare and that’s when the funding came in.
“We really tried to sell across the nation because that’s our aim, and it’s the most difficult thing to do if you are a Zimbabwean manufacturer,” says Zimunya.
In a country heavily reliant on imports on account of failing food production, Greenit had the opportunity to produce a low-cost alternative food option locally. They sold their first batches at $3 for 500 grams making it the cheapest alternative flour in Zimbabwe.
“We have now reached about 600 people in five months and made around $800,” says Zimunya.
One of their aims is to become wheat flour’s biggest competitors. But to do this, the boys were going to need a lot of goodwill – and financing.
Their first investment came from $5,000 which they won after applying for the Celebration Church Mutare Padare business forum last year.
This happened to be the same church the boys first met in and solidified their friendship.
Early this year, they won another $10,000 from the Youth Entrepreneurs Program financed by CBZ Bank in Zimbabwe.
Despite Greenit’s infancy, the two admit they have been able to achieve a lot in a short time. Their products now retail in some supermarkets and small shops in Mutare.
Their priority though is to use the money to set up a factory to be able to keep up with the demand. The duo aim to even sell their products outside of Zimbabwe.
“Since then we have been able to produce two tonnes of the banana flour and have sold over 1,000 units since,” Musarurwa says.
But as with any business, they have had challenges, and some costly learnings along the way. Despite their eagerness and professionalism as business owners, they still face prejudice as young people.
“The most difficult challenge we face is that people don’t take us seriously at times,” says Musarurwa.
They are also more cautious when it comes to making promises or signing agreements, and have learned not to trust easily.
“Everything that you do has to be written down,” says Musarurwa. “No matter how small it is, if you want to do something with someone, put an agreement to that.”
Zimunya hopes to study business management while Musarurwa wants a marketing degree. They also plan to expand their production in the alternative food sectors, producing banana porridge for infants and adults, and diversifying to fertilizer production with banana peels.
They were also invited to attend the 10th African Union Private Sector Forum in Egypt early May. They want to expand their network beyond Zimbabwe as Africa is in need of more alternative food sources.
Zimunya says he won’t rest until he sees their names on FORBES AFRICA’s Under 30 list one day.