Sanergy, Inc., which wastes not, secures $1.7 million


Sanergy, Inc., a social enterprise that makes prefabricated concrete toilets that turn human waste into fertilizer, has raised $1.7 million to expand operations in Nairobi, where it is headquartered.

The brainchild of three MIT alumni, Sanergy manufactures “Fresh Life Toilets” at their facility in Kenya and sells them to local entrepreneurs. The startup also deals with waste removal, emptying the units daily and turning the waste into organic fertilizer. To date, Sanergy has sold 614 toilets in nine informal settlements near the capital city, Nairobi.

When someone purchases a Sanergy toilet they become a “franchise owner” and can charge their neighbors a few cents per use, a critical source of income for many Kenyans and a needed service in a country lacking widespread indoor plumbing.

This most recent round of funding was led by Kenyan VC firm Novastar Venture; Acumen, a non-profit venture fund; and the Eleos Foundation, which makes philanthropic investments.

In 2011, Sanergy, a MassChallenge grand prize winner incubated in MIT’s Media Lab, received a $1.5 million grant from USAID and has since raised money from charitable foundations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. According to SEC filings, the company has sought more than $5 million in funding since it was incorporated as a non-profit in Massachusetts in 2010.

Communications Manager Medora Brown said Sanergy will use the latest funding to increase the amount of fertilizer it’s able to produce from the waste it collects. She said Kenyan trade policies make imported fertilizer too expensive for many farmers.

“Farmers here are paying more than double the average price for soil fertilizer, so having a domestically produced alternative… is hugely important for the sustainability of Kenyan agriculture,” said Brown, speaking from her office in Nairobi.

Brown said Sanergy plans to increase fertilizer production from 240 to 8,000 metric tons per year by 2020 by upgrading its waste processing facilities and adding three new trucks to its waste removal fleet.

Globe correspondent Amanda Burke can be reached at [email protected]
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