Bryan Piti is the founder of Zijani, a renewable energy company in Nairobi that converts used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel.
Bryan Piti was only 25 when he created his biodiesel fuel company- but the idea came even earlier, while he was still at university. Although a student of international business and marketing, he had to take one environmental studies class. His teacher one day was discussing how used cooking oil can be used as fuel for diesel engines in cars and other forms of transportation, which sparked in him a deep interest in the topic. By his final year in university, he had prototyped his idea. However, needing a formal job upon graduation in 2013, he began working at Oracle.
When his contract with the company ended in 2014 and he found himself without a job, Bryan remembered his idea from university. He thus decided to take the risk and set up a small lab to convert used cooking oil into biodiesel fuel.
Humble Beginnings Leading to Success
At first, Bryan was only producing 2 liters of fuel per day and assumed every position in his company. When he would receive phone calls from potential customers, he would answer the phone in one tone of voice to act as the “receptionist,” tell the customer to hold, and then speak to them again in his own voice as the owner. He also burned his house in the process.
Eventually in 2016, he found someone else who had been working on biodiesel fuel for a long time who gave him a new space to work at. Since then, his company, Zijani, has reached production levels about 180 liters of fuel per day. The used cooking oil is obtained from restaurants and other kitchens, and the resulting fuel is sold for individual or corporate use. In the process, Zijani helps companies to meet their waste disposal regulatory standards.
As for the future, Bryan's vision is to "go big"- such as fueling airplanes through used cooking oil (something already being started in some European flights)
Environmental + Social Impact
Zijani tackles a number of issues related to climate change- namely, making sure that used cooking oil isn’t wasted or doesn’t go into low income areas (where it is reused and recooked), making fuel that is cheaper and more easily available, and saving over 95% of greenhouse gas emissions compared to fossil fuels. Bryan is passionate about the fact that his company "closes the loop" on waste and emissions. Additionally, the company helps the community by employing young people.
Advice for Young Innovators
At age 29, Bryan is an inspiring example of how young people are capable of leadership and entrepreneurship in the area of sustainability. He also represents the changing tide of the private sector; whereas older generations were only concerned with making profits, Bryan sees that millenials and young people are shifting focus to sustainable and ethical business practices that have a positive societal impact.
When asked what advice he would give to young entrepreneurs and innovators, Bryan gives a useful mantra: think big, start small, and start now. In other words, think big about what issue you can tackle and what impact you can have; start with what you have, because you have whatever you need around you, and it will grow; and you don’t have to wait until you’re “old enough” to start- it doesn’t matter if you are still in university, high school, or whatnot. Just start!
Bryan also stresses the importance of developing tenacity and staying power. He says that while many companies are started, much less actually last. It is thus vital to stay patient, even if at first you only receive one phone call or email per week.
As for how young people can get more involved in taking climate action, he emphasizes the role of raising awareness through the following steps: get, keep, and grow information. Here at We Sustain Africa, we couldn't agree more.