When Jacob Schmalzle talks about his company, EcoPallets Kenya Ltd, his excitement is tangible. The firm manufactures light-weight shipping pallets made from corrugated cardboard.
“Our patented design uses the least amount of material possible in a two-piece assembly,” the EcoPallets CEO says. “It is made from two flat boards that fold up and interlock into a pallet that weighs under four kilos, a fraction of the weight of other pallets in the market.
‘‘There are other corrugated pallets available, but they have an impractical 12-piece assembly and require glue and staples which affect cost and recyclability.”
One pallet cost Sh1,000, but discounts are available for wholesale clients. The pallet comes in the standard size of one by one metres. However, custom-designed ones can be ordered. One pallet can hold one tonne of evenly distributed weight.
“The physics behind the design lies in the fluting of the corrugated board. When the fluting is positioned vertically, the weight capacity is immense.
‘‘We work closely with our clients to ensure a good product. Our pallets perform very well in the same applications as wood or plastic,” he said.
EcoPallets was started last year in Kenya targeting air-freight exporters with its biggest advantage being weight reduction.
Weight is critical to air transport as it forms the basis of charges. Weighing under four kilos, the special cardboard pallets offer dramatic cost-savings.
Other pallets weigh between eight and 10 kilogrammes, with some wooden ones weighing upwards of 25 kilogrammes. In addition to being lightweight, cardboard pallets are stored as flat boards, reducing space requirements by 90 per cent.
Going green is trendy today for a good reason, Mr Schmalzle said. Using corrugated cardboards makes their products recyclable.
The cardboard used is 70 to 80 per cent recycled paper. Born in the United States and a son of Lutheran missionaries, Mr Schmalzle moved to Kenya at the age 12.
After studying business at Wittenberg University in the US, he came back to Kenya in 2007 with a passion for entrepreneurship.
“I gained experience by writing business plans as a consultant before launching my own companies.
‘‘I have never done a job interview or needed a CV and as an entrepreneur I do not plan on it. I did have a job in college, as a waiter at a steakhouse, but that was it,” he said.
Mr Schmalzle started writing business plans to help people turn their business ideas into real ventures.
Using his knowledge of local culture, business climate and networks, he helped Kenyans start businesses before launching his own.
Apart from EcoPallets, Mr Schmalzle owns NeoScript International company and Village Markets of Africa, which is
a Fair Trade venture connecting artists around Africa to the United States through the Lutheran Church.
He is also a private consultant in business plan writing and owns a Nairobi-based dog food company called Dr Bones.
“I was going home to Florida to see family for the holidays and happened to meet the inventor of Green Ox Pallet Technology.
‘‘After some exciting meetings with everyone on the American side, I returned to Kenya and assembled our EcoPallets team,” he said.
Green Ox Pallet technology is a culmination of 10 years of research and development in the US.
EcoPallets partnered with Ramco Group to bring the technology to East Africa. EcoPallets works with ASL Packaging, a member of Ramco Group, to manufacture and distribute the pallets.
“Kenya is a very exciting place to be an entrepreneur. Of course, not every idea is going to work in this market but my history in the country provides insight into what has potential,” Mr Schmalzle said.
‘‘There are many unique risks to doing business in Kenya, but if you know how to bring the right idea to this market then it’s really an entrepreneur’s paradise.”