Vivus Limited has developed a rural transportation system that enables the efficient collection of crops and agricultural waste. They then market crops in urban centers, while residues are sold to third-parties or converted into biogas and fertilizer. VC4Africa spoke to founder Richard Ahedor Seshie (picture above) about his company and his current search for investors via our platform.
Can you describe Vivus Limited in three sentences?
“Vivus is a company with a purpose: Ghana has long been dominated by export cash crops – leaving domestic markets for food staples messy, inefficient and informal. We are introducing a mobile-based sales system to sell food staples at wholesale prices to women vendors. At the same time we empower farmers with carts for the easy transport of food produce at the rural level. In effect, we are pioneering a concept we call ‘mobile + light infrastructure’ which is very relevant for Africa.”
Looking at your venture profile I got the idea that you try to solve many issues at the same time. How are you planning to do all of this simultaneously?
“We are building an integrated supply chain for domestic food staples which we figured out is essential to get above the current messiness. Vivus does two simple things: Firstly at the distribution level, we send out field agents to mobile-register women vendors who make the bulk of crop sales in Ghanaian cities. We then send them ongoing ‘deal of the day’ SMS, offering staples at discounted prices. We take advantage of soccer fields and uncompleted houses to set-up temporary early morning wholesale markets.
Secondly, at the farm level, we choose a lead farmer who aggregates the food produce from other fellow farmers. We empower them with carts so they don’t have to use head portage or walk profusely to convey their produce to a collection point. For those who dig deeper in our model, we also focus on agro-residues as we figured out carts could not only serve to micro-collect staples but also agro waste vastly under-utilized in rural communities.”
Tell us more about the cargo bike project?
“Earlier we leveraged the existence of one local manufacturer in Ghana to initally prototype cargo bicycles. But then, we gained a critical market insight. It turned out farmers already valued their old-fashioned ‘rodster-style’ bicycles and didn’t want new ones. Instead, they wanted a cart that could be attached to their bicycles to carry goods. So we are now prototyping bicycle carts and push carts with the same partner that will be tested by September.”
You’ve recently won the 3rd price at the Future Fidelity Impact Prize in Switzerland and you were winner of the 2011 the UNDP-UNEP SEED Initiative Award. How have these awards helped you so far?
“We received some seed funding to the tune of nearly US$15.000 to get us up and running, finance our market research and seed our collaboration with partners. But the most valuable part are the human connections and the media attention we received. We enhanced our credibility since we made it out of hundreds of applications and pitched to a high-level jury and a room full of decision-makers in Switzerland.”
Richard with an organic farmer during a learning trip in India
What is your background?
“I was born in Ivory Coast to Ivorian and Ghanaian parents who owned a quite successful restaurant and food distribution business. As early as ten years old, my sisters and I would start handing out the drinks to the personnel and I learnt everything about the business. When turned sixteen I entered the national university. Six years later I graduated with a bachelor in geography and a major in development studies and population. In between, I took a 2-year break abroad where i collaborated with Ashoka Innovators for ‘Public India’, ‘Innovest Group’ and Microsoft as their ‘Community Affairs Coordinator’ for North Africa.
My passion for social innovation led me to create two successful non-profit social ventures still running today. As I want to achieve more for Africa, I went back to Ghana in 2010 looking for ways to alleviate poverty through a business venture and there, Vivus was born.
My previous work has led me to be recognized as a World Economic Forum Global Changemaker Fellow, an International Telecommunications Union Young Innovator Fellow, a Pearson fellow for Social Innovation and an Echoing Green Finalist. Last month, I was named a Social Innovation Rockstar by Yoxi (the new media company of the co-creator of American Idol) and included to their Atlas as one of the most promising social entrepreneurs in the world. We are right now a team of two in Ghana committed to Vivus.”
What will be your main sources of income?
“Vivus will make money by selling food staples to informal women vendors and through our vending carts. We will also make a modest income from the sales of carts to rural families.”
You are currently in fundraising mode on VC4Africa, looking for US$250.000. How will you spend the money when that capital is raised?
“We intend to source and sell 7000 tons of crops, engage 343 women vendors, deploy 53 vending carts and empower farmers with 6700 carts during our first 24 months of operation. The initial US$250k will allow us to perform 30% of those objectives during the first year.
Although we are an early-stage company, the revenue model of selling crops through table-top vendors or vending carts is a long-time proven one in Ghana and elsewhere. We run an early pilot project where we engaged women vendors in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Bottom line, we do this by bringing much more efficiency in the value chain. We have our comprehensive investment documentation pack we call “Invest in Vivus” which benefited from the insights of several advisors and US$35.000 worth of consultancy from UNDP.”
How will Vivus change the lives of small scale farmers in your best case scenario?
“Vivus works with and empower the most disadvantaged stakeholders in the agricultural value chain: smallholder farmers and informal women vendors. We believe they will benefit from a substantial increase in income (10 to 30 percent) and our carts will deliver four times more efficiency in carrying rural goods.”