Inzimwe, How a Mushroom Venture Became an Example for Innovation
By Patricia Opio
When you are looking for creative entrepreneurship, you don’t automatically think about a mushroom growing company. But let us surprise you. For this forth edition of the Design Hustle I spoke to Alana Mukunzi of Inzimwe, a mushroom business that took a new twist.
Tell us about yourself. Briefly introduce yourself and your company.
My name is Alana Mukunzi, I am a financial manager by trainer but a businesswoman by passion. I am the director of Inzimwe. Inzimwe is a family business with various arms and I am in charge of the agro-business, particularly oyster mushrooms. We grow mushrooms and add value by making petroleum jelly, shower gels and hand wash gels from them.
What was the turning point to lead you to where you are now? What inspired you?
I was working in a bank in Kampala but I made the decision to leave and see where else I could grow. In the middle of all that, my mum fell sick. The doctors could not find what was the problem, so she was in hospital for a long time. Now mind you, I had no job, so all this brought on financial and emotional burdens. It was such a hard time for our family. We realized we needed to do something together that could help us. One day, I saw a truck in town and it was full of mushrooms. I was so surprised because I had never ever seen mushrooms as a viable business venture. It was my “aha!” moment. We started the business in 2018.
How has the journey/ride been in building your company or career?
Knowledge is power!! It doesn’t matter what business you want to do. One needs to get the knowledge that is required. First research!! Now I, on the contrary, did not do this. I just started my business on passion and excitement. I did not research at all, so I was surprised to learn that mushroom growing is very labor intensive. It takes so much energy and muscle power. I am a woman who believes in woman emancipation but there are certain tasks that are for men to carry (She bursts into laughter). The lack of research failed me. I made so many consistent losses, but I blamed it on different things like the weather. The truth is I did not have sufficient knowledge at that time. I had to close shop and reassemble myself.
I started afresh with asking myself sufficient questions and attending trainings. A friend introduced me to Abel Kiddu of African Mushrooms Growers Uganda Limited. He trains youth on mushroom growing. He took me on a tour of his own farm in Makindye. That is how I began afresh on a proper foundation.
With this new start, I became more intentional on value addition. I knew that I could not run my business the way I had. I researched and found out that a number of products could be made from mushrooms. This included shower gels, hand wash gels and oils. I consulted with a cosmetician, Mrs. Zawedde and she guided me on how I could make cosmetics from mushrooms. Shea nut and Marula are known for cosmetics but mushrooms are also a viable base product, and this is not well know yet. We had to go through a number of formulae and a lot of mushrooms (she laughs out) to get the right consistency for the gels. Right now, we use the boiling process where we boil the dried mushrooms for a while and then skim of the natural oils at the top. We are now working on the right scents that can complement our formula. We are still continuing with the research on the other ways to extract the natural oils from the mushrooms. Research never ends. We want to improve at all times.
What has been the biggest obstacle you have had to break through. How did you overcome this obstacle?
I am not formally trained in agriculture, so people often do not take me seriously and usually look at me and ask with what authority or background do I have to speak about it. I have seen that it is not about how long you have been in the business, but about how many challenges you have gone through and overcome.
Secondly, formalizing a businesses in Uganda is not easy. The requirements are intense. To grow and sell mushroom products, you need a Q Mark which is Uganda’s only quality standard mark. Your product has to be tested and analyzed by Uganda National Bureau of Standards and found to meet the minimum standards to be acceptable on the Ugandan market. This process is quite expensive. Registering a company is also difficult and needs legal guidance in how to go through it. Some businesses will remain small because of their inability to get these legalities done.
What do you think holds back creatives/entrepreneurs in the industry?
Absolutely, one of the main things that holds them back is not doing enough research. Just because you know finances or have the talent doesn’t mean you can do business. Without the knowledge, it will not be enough to sustain a business. Do not be shy to talk about the challenges you are going through. Get yourself into spaces of growth. If you are afraid to fail, you will not grow. Seeing other people and you just copy without knowing the intricacies in their industry will not sustain a business. People have the mindset of wanting to start big instead of starting small. They forget to understand that small beginnings are not a bad thing; they are a learning process. And in everything, the challenges are opportunities for you to find solutions.
What is the formula for your success? What is your secret? Do Share with us. What does success mean to you?
Knowledge acquisition and not giving up is my secret. All this led to me to understanding the power of value addition. Especially in relation to my mushrooms, it was enabling me to include shower and handwashing gels to my product list. There was a time that I had a huge supply of mushrooms that I needed to sell but the market was short in coming. I started to think of a way I could preserve my mushrooms. I went to Uganda Industrial Research Institute and they trained me on how to do exactly that. In agro-business, you need to be patient and consistent. You must hold on till the fifth year because that is when you will break even.
How do you motivate yourself to keep going even when things are tough?
Problem solving is one of my strengths, so I enjoy the challenge of looking for solutions. I also listen to other African entrepreneurs and what they went through in building their businesses. This gives me courage to go on. Currently I am listening to Mr. Cosmas Maduka, a Nigerian businessman and philanthropist, the Founder, President and Chairman of the Coscharis Group. He is a billionaire who has gone through many challenges that I have gone through. These entrepreneurs are older and have a wealth of experience and it has taken them time to build their businesses, teaching me to be patient in the growth of my own business. I have learnt to give in to the process.
It’s 2026, I turn on the TV and there you are being interviewed, what are they saying about you and your business/brand?
I would be called Mama Mushrooms. The standardization of all my products would be done. I would be selling to all supermarkets in East Africa. I would also be training other people on how to grow and add value to mushrooms.
You can find Alana and Inzimwe on