Lavender Odeny

MashLav Foods: a Thriving Social Enterprise Founded by a Young, Daring Innovator

Growing up in one of Kenya’s biggest cities, Mombasa, Lavender made an observation that very few people practised agriculture. Those who tried, only cultivated what was barely enough for their families. This made even more sense considering the high food prices, exacerbated by food shortages. The worrying situation prompted her to venture into agriculture, specifically mushroom farming. She worked with the assumption that mushrooms require a small piece of land to grow. Therefore, most urban residents would be able to not only engage in farming the edible fungus, but also sell it and make an income.

Unforeseen hiccups

To breathe life into her mushroom business, Lavender took pen and paper and began the ideation process. They say all you need to do is start. Sure enough, Lavender had courageously taken the initial steps with hopes that her business idea would eventually materialise. She worked tirelessly, but the more she brainstormed for ideas the more her concept became blurry. Not even the knowledge that she had gained from her Agribusiness degree could shed light on the idea. “I found it difficult to analyse the concept and collect useful insights,” she said. The Kenyatta University graduate then concluded that she needed an entrepreneurial platform and a mentor to help her harness her business.

Joining DOT Kenya

“When I saw the poster for the DOT Kenya application on Whatsapp I immediately acted on it”, she recalled. Lavender was excited about the opportunity, especially because she would meet an ecosystem of other daring social entrepreneurs whom she would learn from. “After several months of application I received a shortlisted email detailing the next steps which was the interview —-done by a panel of interviewers,” Lavender narrated her experience.

Her application to the program was successful, and she later joined the 2021 cohort. 

An exciting experience

While at DOT Kenya, Lavender attended a series of learning sessions. She learnt how to pitch, through a one-on-one coaching session with experts. Talking about her experience, she said, “The fact that the judges asked instrumental questions related to my business helped hugely in refining my idea and gave me confidence to pitch better.”

Besides perfecting her pitching skills, she also met the Learning Manager from DOT Kenya who helped her grow her entrepreneurial skills.

“The coaching and mentorship that I received from her are still helping me in my business,” Lavender attested.

Additionally, the social innovator learnt the importance of practising inclusion in her business, and she is currently working towards creating equal opportunities for all. 

“I also became good at financing. I keep a record of every shilling that gets in and out of business- every coin matters. And I have learnt to separate both personal and business finances. All thanks to DOT Kenya,” Lavender further recounted her experience.

“My confidence level increased. Prior, I was nervous talking to people but DOT Kenya’s coaching helped a lot,” she added.

Lavender also met DOTKenya’s partner, Somo Africa, who held her accountable in achieving her business goals. Through Somo Africa, she was able to interact with other social entrepreneurs. “Through this network I was helped in getting a business till number where customers can buy and pay for mushroom products through Mpesa, increasing customer’s convenience,”she said.

Scaling her business

What was merely an idea, started growing into a real business that Lavender is proud of. Towards the end of the program, in December 2021, Lavender won a grant worth Kes 70,000. She set up a mushroom farm and started selling fresh oyster mushrooms in Mtwapa, Kilifi and Mombasa. “I went ahead and developed a prototype for my mushroom into delicious Mushroom Cookies.” Lavender is currently focusing on marketing her business and expanding her customer base. So far she has employed two youth and her goal is to increase the number to 15 by 2025. Lavender’s future plan is to grow her business into a market leader and exporter of mushroom and its by-products in Kenya and Africa.

“DOT is a powerhouse. DOT is endowed with experienced facilitators, coaches, customised entrepreneurship training, amazing facilitation resources and invited seasoned entrepreneurs. This is a platform  that nurtures one’s growth both personally and professionally. I truly enjoyed and got empowered by DOT,” Lavender excitedly lauded DOT Kenya.