lauren fletcher finding impact podcast

FIP 90: Drones for Social Enterprise? Imagining What’s Possible with Lauren Fletcher

Today we’re doing a replay of my interview with Lauren Fletcher of Biocarbon Engineering – a social enterprise that is imagining what is possible with drones – and this, he describes, is about reforesting the planet at scale. This is the last in our three part series on high tech for development.

Some of the things you’ll learn on this podcast include:

  • How social entrepreneurs should always be stepping back to see how their product or solution fits within the bigger picture, which can, specifically, link you up with those who have available resources to help you go further.
  • How Laurent went about finding his founding team, and how he looked for people with exposure and basic understanding of the subject matter he needed.
  • Their strategy of finding early capital, where they went after equity, prizes and government grants
  • We learn the downside of going after prizes, including how they are a lot of work for not alot of money, but the upside was a viral video that got over a million views that gave them the notoriety to attract seed round investors
  • How their product development roadmap panned out, which included building a pre-prototype basic flying planting machine in 3 weeks for the Drones for Good competition in Dubai.
  • How they’re thinking about getting their first clients, and the short to long term vision for revenue generation and growth


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FIP 89: High Tech Bio Tech for Development with Eddy Agbo of Fyodor Biotech

For the second episode in our high tech for development episode, I’m speaking to Eddy Agbo of Fyodor Biotech. We speak about early diagnostic methods that are changing the game for global health and the opportunities these represent for social enterprise. Eddy is the CEO of Fyodor Biotech, he’s a PHD from Utrecht University in the Netherlands in molecular genetics and has a post-doctoral fellowship in medicine and infectious diseases at John Hopkins. Fyodor Biotech is building a portfolio of non-invasive fever diagnostic products for emerging markets, of which one, they’re now commercialising, is the Urine Malaria Test (UMT) – a test for malaria that tells within 25minutes if a fever is malaria, using only a few drops of urine.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Malaria diagnosis is a field that hadn’t evolved for over a hundred years until the 1970s, and then again today. So the time to big disruption has reduced from 100 years to 40. The big innovation has been to remove the guess work in whether someone has malaria or not.
  • The UMT product took 8 years to get to market, and has been sold commercially now for two years in Nigeria and Liberia only. Their strategy is to target the private healthcare sector first.
  • They started developing the product in the market crash of 2008 so funding was a challenge, so they had to bootstrap and form strategic partnerships.
  • They competed for public grant funding in the life sciences sector from the US or British governments.
  • They were able to raise equity funding from different funders during the development stage. When the technology was developed and in people’s hands, it made a difference to their funding, and they received much more interest from investors.
  • They’re distributing to both business and consumers. They’re working with major pharmaceutical distributors, but are also allowing customers to purchase directly from them.
  • They have distribution partnerships with a range of suppliers, mostly of the online marketing kind.
  • They went to the Nigerian market first, because of the size of that market, because they wanted to get to scale in a market where the impact could be felt and where they could eventually achieve a lower price point for the public sector. And Nigeria has a large private health sector which is key to their growth strategy.
  • Their partnership with John Hopkins was due to a key part of the technology they licensed from them. They have a global, exclusive license from them, which was critical because of the credibility it has brought and the resources they’ve drawn on to help them succeed.
  • They do their early stage research in the US and later stage development in the target market. This meant bringing blood and urine samples into the US, and the red tape was such a challenge. But it was something John Hopkins was able to help with, since they had extensive experience with this.
  • John Hopkins also provided some crucial early introductions that helped with funding and access to important resources in the product development.
  • They implemented a major clinical trial (2000 participants) that built compelling evidence that helped with investor funding.
  • It was published in leading journals (see link below)
  • Functionality testing had to show that a certain skilled level of operator can do the tests, and that an acceptable product shelf life could be.
  • Eddy’s vision is to build a portfolio of products that could help populations in the developing world with a fever, to help in the initial diagnostic stages, to know what has caused the fever and remove the presumptive diagnostic process in patient care.

Links to resources

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elizabeth-rossiello finding impact

FIP 88: Using Cryptocurrencies in Social Enterprise with Elizabeth Rossiello from BitPesa

This week we’re kicking of a mini-series on high-tech for business within a developing country context. We’re talking to Elizabeth Rossiello, who co-founded BitPesa Ltd in 2014 and serves as its Chief Executive Officer. Elizabeth has worked in Kenya as a Microfinance Analyst and Investment Associate since 2009. She is an expert in East African financial product development and establishing best practices in risk, governance and IT for local banks. Prior to her work in East Africa, she served as an Analyst at Credit Suisse in Zurich and a Robert Bosch Fellow in Frankfurt. She speaks four languages and has a Masters in International Finance from Columbia University’s SIPA.

On this episode you’ll learn:

  • Cryptocurrency can be compared to how letters (snail mail) used to be sent to another country, and now email has replaced that. Cryptocurrency, or Bitcoin, was created to replace the traditional way of sending money to another person. Bitpesa is sending money around the world a lot cheaper than traditional means. They’re increasing liquidity for companies.
  • Bitpesa’s business model is to take a small percentage on each international money transfer transaction.
  • Bitpesa doesn’t hold Bitcoin overnight so they’re not affected by the fluctuating price that the currency has seen.
  • Elizabeth built the simplest test case of how it could work. She hired one engineer and one UX (User Experience) team. They built it on the Mpesa system in Kenya to test it out. It took a month and a half. Their first customer traded in January 2014, and they relaunched in April with a market-ready product.
  • The regulatory framework was setup for traditional money transfers, but Bitpesa showed they were doing the same thing just using a different tool to do so.
  • Working with regulators still makes up part of their work today. It’s about ensuring they’re following the rules, and keeping the focus away from what the technology is.
  • They’ve had plenty of setbacks, such as being sued by Safaricom in Kenya, and potential investors who learnt from their company and ended up creating something similar.
  • Bitpesa started out on a small $50k seed investment which they used to build the prototype, and then raised follow on investment from international investors. Follow on investors were only willing to put in cash for 6-12 months runway, so Elizabeth says it was a really inefficient fundraising process.
  • Elizabeth advises to enjoy the ride, because it’s a long journey. Enjoy building a company that you want to work for. And take care of yourself along the way.

Links to resources:

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