Entrepreneurial Graduate Student Works to Bring about Healthy Change

Vanessa Kungne '17 MSChE

Who: Vanessa Kungne '17 MSChE of Cameroon, Africa

What: Afya Tea. Motivated by a history of diabetes in her family, Kungne was 17 when she launched Afya Tea, which utilizes the medicinal properties of the moringa oleifera tree. The leaves become infused in the tea, making it extremely healthy and helping it manage blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Recognition:

  • Finalist for Africa’s biggest entrepreneurial award, the Anzisha Prize
  • Featured in a CNN story on the development of young entrepreneurs in Africa
  • Forbes Africa “30 Under 30” list
  • Forbes Under 30 Summit
  • Meyer ICE Award for Innovation and Creative Excellence
  • Villanova Student Entrepreneurship Competition’s Halloran Social Venture award
  • 2017 Oxford Africa Conference Innovation Fair prize award

Contributing to her success: “The Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) Institute really helped us become a better team and myself a better entrepreneur.” Her Villanova Engineering graduate degree also provided Kungne with a strong foundation for the technical aspects of transitioning from a small startup to a full-scale company. Courses in Separation Processes and Heat Transfer delivered insight into essential elements of the production chain, and a Sustainable Engineering class, Life Cycle Analysis and Impact Assessment, proved to be particularly valuable. Kungne says, “It taught me to use a circular economy model rather than a linear model to avoid waste and land degradation while ensuring sustainable food systems for the next generation.”

Additional research: Working with two Villanova Chemical Engineering undergraduates, Kungne is looking at the use of natural plant-based coagulants such as moringa olefeira seed extract to help remove nanoparticles from waste water and surface water. She explains, “This research will help benefit developing communities that don’t have access to clean water as a result of the high cost associated with its treatment. It will also create a more sustainable environment by reducing the chemicals used in the conventional water treatment process.”

What's next: Kungne says that the big step is to automate her production chain. She and her team are looking into grants, which could help in purchasing the equipment necessary to expand operations and reach the international market. These funds will also help empower local farmers in Cameroon through her Afya Tea Farmers’ Development Program and create more employment opportunities in the community. Her vision is lofty: “I want Afya Tea to be the Lipton of Africa, then take over the world, while making lives better!”