With a fast-growing population, Africa is witnessing a remarkable rise in entrepreneurial ventures. From small-scale startups to established enterprises, businesses of all sizes have the burning desire to meet the evolving demands of the population, which seeks innovative solutions, products, and services.
However, this dynamic and rapidly evolving business landscape is plagued with several challenges, one of which is the lack of accessible and reliable cold storage facilities. From agricultural produce and seafood to dairy products and pharmaceuticals, the absence of proper refrigeration options hinders businesses’ ability to scale and remain profitable. Generally, the economic impact can be overwhelming.
For instance, about 50% of food produced in African countries goes to waste due to inefficient supply chains and a lack of cold storage infrastructure. In Nigeria alone, the agricultural sector loses an alarming N3.5 trillion annually to post-harvest losses, of which the lack of cold storage facilities undoubtedly makes a significant contribution. With such a fortune lost to post-harvest losses, food insecurity becomes a looming threat.
To confront this challenge, Oghenetega Iortim established Gricd, a cold-chain solutions provider specializing in temperature-controlled products, temperature monitoring solutions, and cold-chain services, drawing from his firsthand experience as a player in the agricultural sector.
Post-graduation from university, Iortim ventured into agriculture in 2015, a period when people began prioritizing production and the advancement of the agricultural value chain. While cultivating vegetables which was his target crop, he faced considerable post-harvest losses caused by the unavailability of cold storage facilities capable of prolonging the shelf life of his crop. In response to this challenge, he leveraged his engineering background and developed a solution to assist smallholder farmers in Nigeria and across the continent.
But it did not end there. As Gricd progressed, Iortim realised that innovation was equally needed in the health sector. The challenges faced by agricultural businesses mirrored the experiences of those in the healthcare sector.
In Africa, the lack of reliable cold storage and inefficient cold chain management have made the health sector witness the prohibitive wastage of supplies including blood, vaccines and pharmaceuticals. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 50% of vaccines are wasted globally every year; a large part because of a lack of temperature control and the logistics to support an unbroken cold chain. This percentage could be higher in Africa where about 568 million Africans are without access to electricity and clean energy to power a cold chain infrastructure.
“Our technology assists businesses that handle perishable items like vaccines and agricultural commodities such as meat and dairy products. In case of any issues with the storage conditions, we alert them promptly so that they can take necessary measures to prevent losses of commodities during transit or while in storage,” Iortim explained.
Although Gricd began as a manufacturer of cold storage facilities, it has transitioned towards offering monitoring services for cold infrastructures such as cold rooms, cold trucks, and warehouses. The company empowers its clients to maintain optimal storage conditions for their products by offering them real-time visibility into the storage conditions of their commodities.
“When a customer is interested in utilizing our services, they can contact us, and we perform a heat mapping analysis. This analysis enables us to precisely determine the location of their facility and assess its size, thereby identifying potential areas of loss. Afterwards, we send devices to the customer for installation, and they can use our software to monitor these locations continuously,” Iortim disclosed.
However, similar to many other businesses on the continent, Gricd also encounters operational challenges. Lortim disclosed that the startup faces difficulties in acquiring the necessary hardware components for cold storage facilities. The majority of these components are imported, making them susceptible to the fluctuating exchange rate of the country. In the past months, Naira’s value has significantly decreased. The World Bank says the Naira lost 10.2 per cent of its value against the US dollar in 2022. At some point during the year, it hit its lowest point at N742/$ in the parallel market. Despite this, Iortim stated that Gricd was able to weather the storm by monitoring market cycles and forecasting demand.
In its early stages, Gricd faced financial challenges. However, the company was fortunate enough to receive backing from a handful of investors who shared its vision. Notably, a crucial contribution came from Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) fund in 2021, which played a pivotal role in facilitating the growth of the company.
Africa’s Business Heroes (ABH) is a philanthropic program in Africa sponsored by the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Philanthropy. It seeks to showcase, support and grow local talent who are creating a positive impact in their communities and beyond and inspire a movement of African entrepreneurship.
According to ABH’s anchor partner, Boyewa Abiodun-Adepoju, marketing and communications manager at VC4A, “We see that wherever talent is in abundance, access to opportunity is always not. With partnerships like ours, the ABH prize competition is able to unearth talented entrepreneurs making a difference in their communities from all across Africa. Not only are partner referrals seen to be stronger, but the quality of applications is also significantly improved.”
For her, putting a spotlight on the top participants throughout, the competition opens an opportunity for new business, innovation, diversity and inclusion. First, it brings about more deal flow towards African startups, thereby creating employment, which is crucial for the growth of the economy. Likewise, the startups gain a platform to showcase their ideas and form strategic partnerships, which can help them to scale their businesses and reach new markets.
This is indeed the case for Gricd. Iortim emphasized that the ABH program has played a pivotal role in his personal growth, and the development of his team and business. He likened the experience to a collective expedition, where a group of individuals come together, sharing a common journey and encountering similar challenges along the way.
“Alongside the ABH fund, the program’s network of individuals and the exposure it provides through media coverage, business introductions, and advisory services is unparalleled. The program has brought growth in every aspect, including personnel development and improved business perception. It has also provided valuable access to capital and network opportunities,” noted Iortim.
ABH is a highly competitive program with numerous businesses offering innovative solutions to various challenges on the continent. Iortim believes that what set Gricd apart was their ability to effectively articulate and demonstrate the tangible impact and benefits their business could deliver.
Gricd’s expansion into Kenya is one of the notable post-ABH impacts. The startup now has operational offices in both Nigeria and Kenya. In terms of deployment, Gricd has expanded its presence to over seven countries on the African continent, including Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, and Ethiopia.
Gricd has announced plans to introduce new products in the upcoming months that aim to solve critical issues on the continent and create a more significant impact. The company also aims to expand beyond its current seven-country presence and reach 10 to 12 countries.
On Monday, Gricd, now known as Figorr secured $1.5 million in a seed funding round to provide it with the necessary resources to further advance its operations. The rebrand signals the company’s strategic shift towards focusing on software solutions to deliver on the evolving needs of its customers.
When asked about how he balances profit and social impact, Iortim explained that “It is almost impossible for any African business not to have a positive impact. Ultimately, the nature of our business itself is impactful. We are focused on ensuring food security in the agriculture sector and increasing access to healthcare. Our product meets the needs of the people and they are willing to pay for it. Since we have a market fit, it becomes a natural balance of impact and profit.”
Gricd has already established partnerships with prominent pharmaceutical manufacturers and food companies in Nigeria and throughout Africa. Through its robust tracking system, the company has effectively monitored over 110 million perishable items, enabling its customers to achieve substantial savings exceeding $200 million.