A couple of weeks ago, NPR had a special on a young man from Africa. Vital Sounouvou, an entrepreneur from Benin founded Exportunity, a trading platform. It’s an ambitious idea and if the platform gains traction, it can restructure how agricultural produce and goods are traded within the African continent and more.
In most impoverished countries in Africa, farmers have a tough time going to market. As a result, there is tremendous waste of produce, a terrible misfortune really, especially in places where people go hungry on a daily basis. This is the problem Vital is trying to solve. It allows farmers and other vendors of essential products to find buyers. Exportunity is the online hub where buyers and sellers can come together and find leads to fill their orders. It not only allows for intra-continental trade, but it also allows for exports to developed markets like the US and EU. Additionally, the platform will be compatible on basic cell phones without smartphone capabilities and that mobile potential is only increasing, with the current market over 700 million cell phones.
The value add of Exportunity is tri-fold. In addition to providing an outlet for suppliers, it allows for export facilitation and intermediation, sales representation and due diligence. Suppliers will gain access to export and trade services previously unavailable to them. Additionally, the company will allow for intermediation between counter-parties as well as providing due diligence services to enable trades, settlement of trades and future structuring of trades for lasting relationships. For small farmers and vendors who lack representation (i.e. bargaining prowess), Exportunity has the prospect to make a difference in that arena as well and empower farmers and vendors to negotiate fair rates.
Exportunity, the web based platform is currently in its startup phase and it has the potential to create solid foundation to drive future growth. Even though the platform hasn’t necessarilty followed the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) strategy – following a structured approach in order to bring buyers and sellers together will pay dividends. In order to succeed, Exportunity will need to execute on the following (at a very high level):
- Build a vetted portfolio of local producers and traders, along with their unique stories.
- Partner with local governments, NGOs in order to become the platform of choice for trading and communication
- Market – market the platform to NGOs in developed countries, market the service to companies interested in sustainable sourcing.
The platform and service are currently untested, but the opportunity is clearly visible. Whether its sourcing vanilla from Madagascar or exporting peanuts from West Africa, Vital Sounouvou has the right idea “We need to empower people economically,” he says. “When somebody has food to eat, he can think about innovating.” Certainly inspiring.