Jacobs Ladder Africa

A Young and Bold Innovator Thriving in Green Enterprise

When JLA asked me to write about my experience as a young innovator, the humbling opportunity presented a big headache: how to summarise the experience into the word limit they provided, lol. I will give you a brief about my background first. My name is Joseph Nguthiru. I am an engineer,environmentalist, and a change-maker. The East Africa Community named me the Best Innovator in the Republic of Kenya.

Over the last two years or so, I have had the unique privilege of witnessing my ventures have an incredible impact on the socioeconomic livelihoods of different communities across the country. One of my startups, HyaPak, manufactures biodegradable plastics from the invasive water hyacinth. Through this, we have created green jobs, restored the blue economy, transformed the circular economy, and redefined sustainability.

HyaPak started as a research project for my final year at Egerton University, before pivoting into a startup. HyaPak won the Best Innovation Award at COP 28 and is listed among the Top 30 startups in Africa by the Yale Africa Startup Review. Another one of my co-founded startups is M-Situ. This is a climate-tech startup that uses Artificial Intelligence (AI), as an early warning system for wildfires, illegal logging/deforestation and charcoal burning. This climate intelligence venture takes forest conservation and restoration to a new level.

Earlier this month, JLA produced amazing documentaries on HyaPak and M-Situ  that can give you more information about our journey. In a typical African village/estate setup, when someone opens a shop today, another one will open right next to it tomorrow and sell the same products. When a butchery, hardware store or fruit vendor stall opens up somewhere, the same thing happens – the mushrooming of similar businesses.

There are a lot of opportunities for green jobs creation, but the missing element, in my opinion, is the lack of innovation. What one needs to do is identify an area where your talents align and your passion burns brightly. This combination is the catalyst for achieving excellence and pushing the boundaries of what others deem achievable. That might sound straightforward, but it is often quite difficult particularly in this green economy context, because some kinds of avenues have not been in existence before. 

Most engineering classes have no proper curriculum on either Electric Vehicles or carbon capture techniques. Economics classes don’t have texts on carbon credits and carbon markets yet. But that is where the world’s attention is headed.

Choosing what to focus on is, in a way, the puzzle to solve in the entire endeavour. While many believe that grand ideas hold the solution, true insight often resides in a persistent question—one that refuses to release its grip on your mind. As you explore that question, you’ll uncover a delicate thread, and as you pull on it, it unravels a journey of curiosity. For me, it was hyacinth, and that brought a solution for single-use plastic pollution, and now it has become HyaPak. 

The other question had to do with wildfires, which led to the creation of an AI-based solution, which is now M-Situ. 

Finally, for aspiring innovators, I recommend embracing promiscuous curiosity—casting a wide net of interests across various threads. Remember that big breakthroughs often emerge from relatively small beginnings; simple experiments, side projects, or casual conversations, that evolve into something remarkable. Being prolific is an underrated superpower. The more diverse paths you explore, the greater your chances of stumbling upon something truly groundbreaking. And yes, along the way, you will encounter dead ends and failed attempts—but those are essential steppingstones. A wealth of good ideas often emerges from a sea of imperfect ones.

New exciting discoveries are waiting to be made daily. Why not by you?


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