The summer months have seen some exciting developments at Impacc. I am writing with fresh impressions from Ghana, where I have been blown away by our new investment candidate and am more convinced then ever by our approach.
Our portfolio is growing: we are overwhelmed by the demand for our solution
In the last few newsletters, I have written a lot about our first two ventures: MakaPads, the sanitary pads made from papyrus in Uganda, and Impacc Stoves, the gasifyer ovens from Ethiopia poor women can earn money with while cooking. Both companies are financed for the next year. Now they need patience and time to develop in such a way that they can eventually operate on their own.
As you know, we are not a company of furnace builders or specialists in the manufacture of sanitary pads – our approach is to help many start-ups grow. Not all of them will be successful, that’s part of the game. Hence it is all the more important that we now build a portfolio of startups so that the success of one can help see the other through some rough stretches. As a non-profit company, we are not interested in profit, but our portfolio does have to be sustainable financially. That’s why we put so much energy into selecting new ventures.
Our “Call for Entrepreneurs” has attracted hundreds of applications from all over Africa – a clear sign of the need for funding for those social enterprises that improve lives but that conventional investors aren’t interested in because they don’t promise sufficient returns. Of over 300 candidates, 80 made it to the second round – we are currently selecting the five to ten that we want to include in our portfolio.
WASHKing Ghana – a perfect investment candidate
Today, I can already introduce one such “second generation” candidate – and attentive readers will remember it: WASHKing in Ghana, the manufacturer of organic toilets for slums. I am writing these lines in Accra, Ghana after an exciting, tiring and incredibly satisfying week. Together with the founder Dieudonne Kwame Agudah and our social venture builder Matthias Rauthmann, we visited the slums of Accra, inspected the construction of the toilets, talked to dozens of customers and the local administration that awards public sanitation contracts.
Visiting a WashKing toilet
I have seldom seen a business as impressive as Dieudonne’s. His product (a so-called biodigester, which only has to be emptied every 5-10 years) is so good that the local administration of Ledzokuku views WASHKing as the gold standard with the highest quality and reliability; Mr. Adusei Yao told me that there are no more cases of cholera in the areas where WASHKing built their toilets. Customers I spoke to (often women who live in a single room with their families) say that their lives have changed – having their own toilet means that no one has to expose themselves to the dangers of public toilets at night. WASHKing’s innovative leasing model means that they pay no more per week than for the often dirty public toilets – and after two years they own their own toilet.
The market is enormous: 40% of the population in Accra alone do not have their own toilet. The market is big, the product is good – but WASHKing’s self-recognized weak point is marketing and sales. This is exactly where we can help – after dozens of sales pitches with the team over the past few days, we have jointly developed ideas on how WASHKing can bring even more toilets to the people. The free support from Frieder and Ute Gamm from the Frieder Gamm Group, a leading provider of negotiation training in Germany, was worth its weight in gold: the two siblings accompanied us to Accra and started a coaching process that will turn WASHKing into sales stars; not because it’s what we think is best, but because Dieudonne demands it for himself and his team.
En route to the sales training
And that made me realize once again what fertile ground our approach falls on, because it is often precisely the mixture of investments and new skills that it takes to make good ideas big. And to give everyone the same dignity, safety and health that Dieudonne’s existing customers already have.
You’ll find my thoughts on how we can support our ventures in their wide range of contexts in the Impacc blog.
Team Africa is getting stronger and stronger
With me in Accra is Lynn Sellanga, our latest addition to the team as “Head of Operations Africa”. Lynn is a power woman who made it from her village in Kenya to America on her own as a teenager and studied there. Back in Kenya, she worked her way up step by step in various start-ups. She now coordinates our activities across all of our ventures, because their needs are often surprisingly similar: what helps one venture today, we can apply to another tomorrow; be it a negotiation guide for sales talks or a training format for the manufacture of the respective products.
Raising awareness for our ventures
Building a portfolio will cost us around half a million euros. That will only be possible if existing supporters help and if we expand our awareness and our circle of supporters. To this end, Ströer AG once again made a lot of advertising space available for free. Given all my passion for WASHKing, it is probably no surprise that one of our new ads focuses on exactly this company:
Another candidate for our second-generation portfolio is Gjenge Makers from Kenya. Nzambi Matee, the founder, produces affordable building material from plastic waste that can no longer be recycled – thus protecting the environment, satisfying the need for affordable housing AND creating jobs for the residents of the slums of Nairobi. I am delighted that ZDF, Germany’s largest TV station, will be putting us at the center of a report on “New Forms of Development Cooperation” this coming autumn – and will probably portray Nzambi and our work with her team. Watch this space for more in the next newsletter.
And with that: greetings from Accra and stay safe,
(who is now off to surf the amazing but slightly scary waves of Ghana’s Gold Coast outside Accra before heading back home)