Timothy Chambers is the MD and co-founder of InspiraFarms, an agribusiness that provides turnkey, on-farm, off-grid cold storage solutions, food-processing facilities, and technical support for small and growing agribusinesses.
1. Tell us about one of the toughest situations you’ve found yourself in as a business owner.
Setting up a light manufacturing plant has always been a key part of our initial growth strategy and a personal dream of mine.
The challenges of health and safety, talent management and the fixed costs associated with in-house manufacturing are a big challenge, especially in less industrialised countries where many “raw materials” are actually previously imported by local suppliers.
The cost of doing manufacturing where there is no presence of local clusters to support that are high, and centralising production within a cluster – where most of the supply chain can be within 80km – is a good, practical way of managing a product-based (hardware) manufacturing business.
To reach a global market, establishing centralised manufacturing is far more cost-effective and at scale, transportation costs can be managed.
2. Which business achievement are you most proud of?
InspiraFarms has existing commitments to deliver more than 30 units of our energy-efficient refrigerated storage facilities for fresh produce management in East Africa, with off-grid solar power and remote monitoring capability that allow our clients to operate on and off grid.
InspiraFarms has also leveraged millions of euros of asset financing to enable our small business clients in East Africa to access our technology and services.
InspiraFarms is investing substantially into our data analytics systems to bring more competitiveness to East African agribusiness suppliers in global supply chains.
3. Describe your greatest weakness as an entrepreneur.
“Impatience is a virtue” is a reflection of my normal attitude toward getting things done, and it has been a challenge to adhere to the more traditional “patience is a virtue” mantra.
I often find myself stressed when things are not moving as quickly, or as well as I would like them to be, and in effect, this stress usually doesn’t contribute to dealing with problems or finding creative solutions. However, having a thick skin is important, and being persistent is critical to getting the job done.
4. Which popular entrepreneurial advice do you disagree with?
Most conventional wisdom stated that financing isn’t available to entrepreneurs in developing countries. In some countries, such as Kenya, the investment and finance ecosystem is evolving to a point where companies can graduate from early-stage capital to more substantial commercial financing.
It is important en route not to over-depend on grant finance, which can create incentives to overspend. Building a lean business model is fundamental to long-term sustainability.
5. Is there anything you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before you got started?
If I had known how exciting and challenging it is, I would have started earlier.
6. Name a business opportunity you would still like to pursue.
Refrigerated transportation as a service, from farm to port, or locally within and across networks of refrigerated storage services. This can be in small scale for higher value commodities and export perishable commodities, or larger scale as you grow with customers.
The journey so far’ series is edited by Wilhelmina Maboja, with copy editing by Xolisa Phillip, and content production by Justin Probyn and Nelly Murungi.