SmartFit is a Tanzanian technology company that specializes in innovating, improving and customizing world-class technologies and services to fit in the African Environment. The company iscurrently developing and deploying self-operated water purification and vending machines to enable communities in sub-Saharan Africa to have easy access to clean and safe drinking water at an affordable cost and in a way which does not endanger our environment with plastic waste.
We got to catch up with Steven Matiku, Co-founder and CEO Smartfit Tanzania, one of the startups in Traction Camp program, and this is what he had to say…
How did you get your idea for the business?
When I was in college a couple of years ago, the only source of hydration at the campus was bottled water. Because of the hot weather in the city, I used to drink between 3-4 liters of water every day; and this would account for the largest portion of my daily budget. It was so sad that some days I had to prioritize water over my meals!
I finally came to realize this was the situation with all the students. After a number of studies and research, I finally realized that bottled water is expensive only because of packaging and the traditional distribution channel (super dealers, whole sellers, resellers etc.). However, water bottles are also bad for our environment.
This motivated me to think of a different affordable alternative that will avoid packaging and traditional supply chain. We started with a team of a few local engineers from designing, proof of concept, prototyping to pilot.
Our new brand service "Ecowater" is now giving affordable drinking water to over 8,000 Students at St. Augustine University in Tanzania. Our vision is to reach all the campuses in Sub-Saharan Africa, and later reach other public places like hospitals, community markets, bus terminals etc.
Briefly explain what you offer and to whom?
We provide a cheap and easy alternative to bottled water, providing unlimited access to cold, filtered and purified drinking water on the go. Our purification process allows us to offer water that’s more purified than any other water refill station. Avoiding packaging and traditional supply chain; we sell our water at a fractional price of bottled water while discouraging the use of “single-use plastic bottles” and help to preserve the planet from plastic waste.
Water is an important constituent of a human body, and at an average, every adult will drink a liter of water every day. This is a clear sign of a potential market. Our Initial focus is on college campuses and later on we can target other market segments such as hospitals, community markets, mining camps, schools etc.
In Tanzania alone, college students’ population is around 540,000 and growth rate is around 8-10% each year; There are over 500 college campuses in East Africa alone; now think of Sub-Saharan Africa, think of other segments like public hospitals where Patients need clean drinking water and yet some cannot afford.
How does Ecowater work?
- Getting Started
- Subscribers register at our nearby Station to acquire our prepaid water card and a reusable water bottle.
- Subscribers can opt to use their own bottles.
- Re-filling procedures
- To refill their bottles, users will visit a nearby station. Activate by card or mobile.
- Users can quickly sterilize their bottles before refilling by using Ozone.
- Two water options are available; Room temperature and Cold.
- Card recharging
- Cards are recharged at our help desk on each station
- Money can also be loaded using mobile money.
- Money loaded into the card can be used without expiry
What is unique about Ecowater?
Affordability: Only sold at the fractional price of bottled water.
Go-Green: Bottled water contributes to over 80% of all plastic waste in Africa. Out of every 20 bottles, Africa may only recycle 1-bottle. We promote a simple step that may have a serious impact. Our customers carry re-usable bottles and every time they re-fill, they save thousands of single-use plastic bottles from ocean and landfill.
Go-Cashless: We promote cashless economy through the integrated PayGo system that allows payment via card and mobile.
Reliable Access: Our stations are self-operated with reliable 24/7 access
Drink on your terms: The stations gives customers the power to drink on their terms. They can always customize the amount of water they want, choose the flavor they want and their preferred water temperature and pay accordingly.
What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment?
Our biggest challenge at the moment is funding. Our project is capital intensive and to scale-up quickly we need to make a serious investment.
How do you make money?
Water as a Product: Drinking water is our core product and we make money by mainly selling water to individual subscribers. We use a prepaid card that allows our customers to prepay for their water in advance.
Card as a service: In places like University, students use our prepaid card to pay for meals and others services at the campus. This card provides “right to eat” for College Students in Tanzania without the need for them to have cash. With the system, Students may limit their daily expenditures and helps them spend wisely and always be assured of their meals when they are at the campus. We make money by charging a percentage of turnover to the vendors and annual card activation fee from each subscriber.
Machine as a service: We manufacture customized machines for schools and private hospitals, kids center, orphanages etc. We make money by selling these units, periodic maintenance of the units, and filter cartilages.
Re-usable bottles: Our Project has an environmental protection agenda and hence, at our stations, only reusable water bottles are accepted. We manufacture and sell these bottles to our subscribers.
What’s most exciting about your traction to date?
We are so excited about our traction to date! We have managed to build a team that comprises of people from multinational backgrounds. Getting our start-up off the ground was not an easy thing, we started with a single station, 10 subscribers and one university campus. As of today, we have a network of 5-stations that serve over 8,000 active subscribers.
At the moment, how do you measure success?
We measure our success in terms of the number of subscribers that use our service and the way these customers are happy with our service. This gives us a lot of confidence that this solution has room to scale-up and grow.
We also measure success in terms of the number of new partnership proposals that we receive from different stakeholders ranging from Universities, development agencies, funding agents, possible investors, developers, interns etc.
Adding new features to the existing product and continuous R & D programs is also another Indicator of success. We started with a model that accepted coins only, innovated it to accept IC-Card and now our current model is completely connected to the cloud with real-time stations connectivity and remote diagnostic capability. Our new validator now allows payment via 2D qr codes.
What will your startup look like in 5-10 years if things went according to plan?
We envision to be the largest network of drinking water outlets all across sub-Saharan Africa. In the next 10 years, we will have a total network of over 5,000 outlets in 10 different countries providing clean, safe and affordable drinking water to over 12millions people
Smartfit Tanzania is one of the startups in the cohort II of Traction Camp, iHub’s accelerator program that connects digital startups from across East Africa with the knowledge, capital, and access to markets they need to grow.
The program is backed by the World Bank Group’s infoDev program and supported by the governments of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Kenya.