Vital Sounouvou saw untapped potential in Africa — and developed a solution that’s boosting trade across the continent.
Africa represents a market with a growing middle class and abundant resources. But many African companies have long faced difficulties getting products to market. In response, Vital Sounouvou founded Exportunity.com, an online marketplace that connects producers and buyers via an app that works on smartphones and “traditional” cellphones. The endeavor is allowing the 23-year-old Benin native to put his information technology degree from UIT de Calais in France to good use.
ACCESS: Can you briefly describe Exportunity.com?
VITAL SOUNOUVOU: We provide economic connections within the African continent and also between Africa and the world. Many producers of goods in Africa don’t have ways to access markets — up to 70 percent of African crops are wasted because farmers have no way to connect with buyers and get their goods to market.
ACCESS: How does it work?
V.S.: It’s very simple. There are 700 million mobile phones in use throughout Africa. It is the world’s largest mobile phone market, but more than 500 million of the devices in use are non-smartphones. Most farmers don’t have smartphones. So our app works on both types of phones and asks four questions: Do you want to buy or sell? What do you want to sell? What quantity? When will it be available?
How did you get the idea for Exportunity?
V.S.: I grew up in a country with little job opportunities after college. The only option was to create my own company. I saw we had good products and good innovation in Africa. But we didn’t have any consistent way to access local and international markets. So I wondered how I could use my IT knowledge to come up with a solution.
ACCESS: How is business so far?
V.S.: The value of the transactions through our trade events since we started in 2012 is $417 million. The market was there — we just happened to be there at the right time. We now operate in several African countries, including Gabon, Cameroon, Nigeria, and Benin. Companies from outside Africa have also approached us. We want to help them get into the African market.
ACCESS: You recently launched a companion project called Exportunity.net. How does it work?
V.S.: It is an online platform that functions like an outlet mall. People come with their wholesale goods. Buyers can come and place a wholesale order. Local traders from Africa can use a free Exportunity.net buyer account. After that, we will provide them with a $1,000 membership loan to use for a year in the hope that they will be become successful.
ACCESS: In a sense, it sounds like an Alibaba or eBay-type service.
V.S.: It was inspired by them. But the difference between Exportunity and a company such as Alibaba is that we want to be responsible for the safety of the transaction. Exportunity handles the money transfers and makes certain the funds arrive safely.
Before Exportunity, buyers and sellers didn’t always have access to each other. With our system, they can identify who’s already doing business, and who can be trusted.