Imagine an exclusive virtual market that organizes and manages B2C and B2B trade in Africa; A platform that allows producers to sell their production upstream, a platform where the biggest buyers in the world can place their orders with an African-stop shop. This platform exists today; it is Exportunity.net and 2015 Tony Elumelu Entrepreneur, Vital Sounouvou is behind this.
From 6 to 12 years of age Vital Sounouvou spent time in the hospital because of his disability. Life after the hospital was one of constant challenges but the dreams of his childhood he says were too big to be realized as an employee, so, the only option was to be his own boss. At 16, he graduated from high school and went on to college, where his professor told him: “After the three years you’ll spend here, you won’t find a job, so you better create your own company”, that statement he says comforted him in what he had already decided for the future and a path to entrepreneurship and job creation became clear in his mind early in life.
In 2008 Vital volunteered to help organize the International Innovation Crossroads in Benin, a trade exhibition organized by college students; that fair marked a turning point in his life he says “I will always remember a lady who pulled me in her booth at the International Crossroads. She offered me water and said, desperately: “How can you help me find big buyers? I have to feed the children. I cannot succeed because I am too busy with production, tired by fairs. Help me dispose of my goods. ”
I organized fairs but I still did not solve the problems of these producers. In fact, in most sub-Saharan African countries there is no bridge between big buyers, people who can pay 100 containers of rice per month and local producers. To observe this gap launched me in this adventure that is today Exportunity and still drives me every day”
Sounouvou founded Exportunity, a site that promotes export opportunities for Africans by connecting producers with traders. It allows a farmer in Benin to sell his produce to a buyer in South Africa – or the United States – through a cell phone. Through the trade events, Sounouvou has engaged over 750 clients, and built a database of 85,000 companies trading with Africa. He also employs 32 people. With the growing success of Exportunity, Vital has been profiled by the media including Forbes Magazine, Fedex Access Magazine, the VOA Magazine and also made it to the list of Africa’s Most Promising Entrepreneurs: Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30. These recognitions he says has made his team feel like they are doing something right.
In 2015, Sounouvou applied for the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Pogramme, same year he was selected to take part in the programme which he attributes success in business to the benefits the programme offererd, “Training offered by the program helped me greatly in improving our business plan, and understanding the business and our industry better; it was very intense and a great curriculum. The rigorous documentation required before receiving the initial seed capital prepared us greatly for the real world of business and investors.
The initial $5000 seed capital obtained from the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme was utilized to incorporate the company in Mauritius where the legal environment is more adapted to international investors.
Prior to the 1st seed capital, our team was only composed of 5 People, and has now increased to 32 including partners.”
Beyond the direct benefits of the the Entrepreneurship Programme, Vital and the Exportunity team hit a gold mine with an open pitch to the founder, Tony Elumelu, CON at the inaugural TEF Forum in Nigeria. Vital requested to partner with one of Africa’s largest financial institution, United Bank of Africa for Exportunity’s payment solution, the path to this request was initiated as he was introduced to Mr. Kenedy Uzoka, the CEO of UBA Group. Mr. Elumelu in a subsequent visit to Benin Republic introduced Vital to Mr. Ellis Nzo Asu, the CEO of UBA-Benin who Vital says has ever since become the biggest support of the Exportunity team.
After a year and a half of work and investments, the partnership request has gone on to birth XportCARDs; this partnership makes Exportunity the first e-trade platform and one of the rare in the ECOWAS region which have the U-COLLECT payment collection solution from UBA Bank. U-Collect allows Exportunity to receive international VISA and MASTERCARD payments, and to send payments to any UBA VISA card including XportCARDs. This also puts the e-Trade firm in a casy-monopoleic situation ahead of competitors like eBay and Amazon who are still struggling in the sub-saharan African Market. In the words of Vital “The XportCARD is just a clear example of what happens when an African Billionaire and a whole bank decide to lift up and accompany an African start-up”
Vital says the partnership with the UBA group is huge for the Exportunity team as it helps them solve the age long challenge of online business “Being an online based Business, we’ve experienced how hard it can be to in a country like the Republic of Benin, which all online payment systems blacklisted. Before paying our webhost we had to be outside of the country as all I.P. addresses from Benin are considered potentially fraudulent. Benin, just like many other countries in the West African Region have earnt a very bad reputation in the internet industry due to the large amounts of web scams being registered. Trusting a Benin based company was just an issue for our potential investors and customers, especially due to the large sums involved in wholesale trade. The online payment and payment collection issues for Africans in partnership with a credible bank is really a breakthrough for the continent.”
Vital and his team have also experienced success in other areas as they only recently obtained a license from the government departments of Benin Republic in charge of trade and digital economy to implement a ‘’one company, one virtual Shop’’ vision; meaning that any company registered in Benin will be entitled to an online shop and a discount on its XportCARD purchase.
Giving back is just as important for Vital as business success as Exportunity recently launched free online shops, allowing hundreds of businesses to already benefit by offering their products to the world without even leaving their homes. Exportunity also offers the most dynamic SMEs on its platform a 10% interest service loan valued at $500 each for purchasing an Executive Online shop for a year and $400 of Advertisement on the platform. SMEs pay Exportunity back by spreading the payment from their daily transactions during the first months of their activity according to a timetable adapted to SMEs.
Vital says he believes in the right for e-commerce, this he shared he shared in a recent TEDx Talk “I shared my belief for every business especially African; that basic right to bring one’s products to market and sell those to buyers with no limitation on their location, and receive payments irrespective of one’s location: That is what we call disruption.
Within just a shortwhile of operation Exportunity is growing and as well driving its dream. For Vital and his team the vision is to see that the young entrepreneur in any village in Africa can experience economies of scale. “We plan to achieve the same by systematically enrolling online all the companies legally registered in each country, starting from ECOWAS countries and next in the nineteen countries where our partner UBA-Bank is based. Thus every African company shall have a shop on that virtual market”
Exportunity has launched its second round of investment and is open to partners and investors who would like to benefit from the e-commerce marketplace of the continent and as well help them scale more sustainably. They can be reached on www.exportunity.net or we can be directly emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, or be followed on Facebook at https://web.facebook.com/Exportunity/ .