Meeting Outstanding Founders in Tanzania.

By Till Wahnbaeck
June 25, 2023

I have just come back from Tanzania for the favorite part of my job: meeting outstanding founders as we select a new cohort of startups to support this year. We spent the last few months narrowing down our list of applications from ca. 200 to eight that we visited in person as part of our due diligence to get inspired about their businesses and the impact they have already created. What all of them have in common, again: great ideas, great people, great traction, but no access to funding as commercial investors shy away from the risk. Hence, they are all open to our approach of philanthropic capital that allows them the time (and gives them the support) to make their ideas really big. It’s a shame you couldn’t meet them in person, so let me introduce a few of them to you:


Meet Sabiha Rahim-Rashid, co-founder and CEO of Rosho, maker of funky-flavored cashew butter and energy bars. Here’s her story: her husband was about to start a cashew export business literally the day before Covid grounded all flights. So all the bags of cashews went back from the airport into their flat, kitchen, sitting room, bedroom and all. What now? One night at 3am she woke her husband and said: “We’ll make cashew butter.” He told her to get back to sleep, but she wouldn’t let go.

Sabiha Rahim-Rashid, co-founder and CEO of Rosho.

And here we are three years and countless hours of kitchen-experiments and broken food processors later: nine all-natural, sugar- and nasties free spreads, a foray into snack bars, 100 distribution points across the country and first exports to Kenya and the UK, and a recent order of 10,000 bars from an airline, which her 20+ all-female staff just completed the night I was there. And believe it or not: Tanzania, one of the world’s largest exporters of cashew nuts, didn’t have a single brand of cashew butter. So she had to register the category and they used her brand as a blueprint for future entries. The morale of the story: When life deals you cashews, make cashew butter.

Plant Biodefenders

Meet a fungus. Or rather, meet Dr Never Zekeya, founder and CEO of Plant Biodefenders, who discovered this little feller during her PhD in bio-chemistry. What’s unique about it is that it kills pests (like Fall Armyworms) by getting under their skin causing disease, but leaving insects like bees alive.

The problem she is solving became very clear to me as we were driving through vast maize fields in northern Tanzania – most of which use chemical pesticides. Amidst clouds of chemical smell, we came past dozens of “sprayers” in the fields, mostly young men with pumps on their backs and no protective gear, no masks, no goggles – a ticking timebomb for their health. Many maize plants had no corn on the cob because the pests had grown resistant to the chemicals. And a woman told me her folks had stopped buying vegetables at the market because of the chemical smell.

Plant Biodefenders’ solution is VURUGA, a fungal based biopesticide, which the FAO has acknowledged works, which increases yields, which even attracts bees through added honey, and which costs less than chemical pesticides. Sounds too good to be true? Not according to >8,000 farmers who are already customers. Her next step is to conquer the coffee, cotton and tomato value chains. Take that, pests of the world!

Dr Never Zekeya, founder and CEO of Plant Biodefenders, explaining her product.

Damu Sasa

And last but not least: Meet the team of Damu Sasa, which means Blood Now in Swahili, and that’s exactly what they do.

Rewind to 2013 – the traumatic Westgate shooting in Nairobi that left more than 60 dead and hundreds injured. Many deaths could have been prevented if blood transfusions had been available, which inspired the founders of Damu Sasa to make sure this never happened again. After finishing university, they set out to create an end-to-end blood service: From encouraging people to donate, to letting hospitals order blood from other hospitals, to delivering it seamlessly and fast, to managing inventories. 185 hospitals have already signed up, and this truly lifesaving idea is waiting to expand throughout Africa.

The team of Damu Sasa.

We will be spending the next few weeks doing further due diligence and then negotiating with the startups what they need and if we are the right partners for them. I hope that by the time I write my next newsletter in August, I’ll be able to introduce the final set we’ll be working with this year. But one thing is certain: It will be a great and inspiring bunch!

About Till Wahnbaeck

Till Wahnbaeck
Ex-CEO of Welthungerhilfe and private sector General Manager, champion of innovation. Till ran both for profit companies and a global NGO and has always strived to bridge the gap between the social and the private sector. As global CEO of Welthungerhilfe (a German food- and nutrition-security NGO with 2,500 staff in 40 countries and a budget of 250mio$), he championed innovation and impact. Previously, as Marketing, Sales and Innovation Director for consumer goods company, Procter & Gamble, he built innovation methods and processes to rejuvenate P&G’s global salon portfolio.

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