Noreen Kigochi quit her bank job to start a new career in wellness and nutrition in 2014.
The 37-year-old says this had always been her first love.
“I run a company called Elan Nutrition and Wellness where we offer health and wellness awareness and assessment. We advise our clients on matters such as menu, physical exercises, sleep patterns and living a healthy lifestyle in general," explains Noreen.
She studied nutrition at the Egerton University . Noreen dreamt of offering preventive healthcare services to the public once she completed her studies.
“My friend had the same dream too and we often discussed about starting a wellness clinic in Mombasa. I did not want to be a doctor or a nurse. After graduating, I was offered many opportunities to work in hospitals but they did not appeal to me since I wanted something different. I wanted to help people learn how to prevent sicknesses."
Thefollowing year, Noreen landed a job in a bank where she steadily rose through the ranks. After five years in the banking sector, she started feeling restless as a strong desire to be her own boss and follow her true calling.
“I worked for five years as a cashier, customer service person, then grew into sales and first level management. I became good at something that was not my passion and I knew I had to leave. Although the job at the bank was challenging, it paid well and I grew my networks but it was killing me."
When she quit in 2014, she reached out to her campus friend and in the same year, they opened the doors to their nutrition clinic in Mombasa. The dream had materialised.
The clinic brought incredible perks like freedom, control, and fulfilment, but running a new concept with the aim of making money out of it was a challenge.
“The first year was the hardest . What we were selling was strange to the target audience. They wanted a product, but we did not have that; we had knowledge. To add on to that, no one knew us."
By the end of that year, the clinic was heavily in debt and had offered neither offered the consultation services nor received any referrals.
“We gave it our best, approaching hospitals and hotels but to no avail. The tires of my car got worn out due to the endless hours we spent on the road. We had not paid rent for some months and the debts kept soaring."
The friend and business partner called it quits.
In 2015, Noreen started receiving job offers from various banks courtesy of the network she built while working in the banking sector. However, she remained adamant in making the clinic work. She could not simply give up on what she felt was her life's purpose.
“I had offers from banks but going back to employment was not an option for me. Somehow I survived through the support of my mum and another friend. I read many books that featured stories of people who had gone through very dark phases of life and came out strong. That motivated me and reassured me that I would sail through all the troubles."
In 2016, Noreen changed the company from a partnership to a limited company. She also started attending networking events.
“People would invite me to give them a talks while I was giving the talk, others would take note and later invite me to give similar talks in their organisations."
She held talks in different organisations such as banks, insurance firms, shipping lines, parastatals and more notably partnered with Ability Resources Ltd to hold Safety Awards 2016 in Nairobi and Mombasa.
Currently, her wellness clinic has an in-house nutritionists and is hiring to expand the human resource. Noreen outsources a doctor and nurse for her services but hopes that as the company grows, she will be able to have more in-house medics including doctors and nurses.
Besides the invites to give health talks, Elan clinic also hold events such as dinners and fun-days at the park where they invite people and empower them with information regarding health.
“We plan to host more events because they are a fun way to learn about health and wellness. People eat and have fun as they get educated through the health talks. We are planning for more outdoor activities such as hikes or beach volleyball."
“We have survived the first three years which are most critical for most new ventures. We still have a lot to do but we are growing. Our brand is out there and that for me is most important, money will come afterwards," she says.
Noreen hopes to build a Wellness Centre with a gym, restaurant and day care facilities.
“I want to replicate that in Kenya and the whole of Africa. Eventually, I want a partnership with other people to set up a palliative care centre for people with cancer."