Colombia is a country on the rise, and social and tech entrepreneurship are on top of the tide.
After decades of violent conflict, the country is finally finding its footing as an innovative, hard-working, and passionate player on the world stage, looking both inward and outward to create solutions to problems old and new.
One example of these solutions is SokoText, the startup social enterprise where I will be completing my Frontier Market Scouts fellowship placement as a Business Development Fellow. SokoText uses the power of mobile phones to aggregate demand in the slums and unlock wholesale prices for micro-entrepreneurs. Begun by a group of five graduate students at the London School of Economics, the startup launched its first pilot in 2013 in Nairobi, and is now beginning to replicate the model in Bogotá.
After winning capital from the London School of Economics and Start-Up Chile, becoming a Top Six finalist for the esteemed Hult Prize in social entrepreneurship, joining the Social Lab incubator in Colombia, being named one of the 16 most innovative startups in Latin America by the Inter-American Development Bank, winning the 2014 WeXChange competition for Latin America’s most promising women entrepreneurs, and forming many other strategic partnerships at local and international levels, with the likes of Fundación Bavaria, Compartamos con Colombia, Meiko, Universidad de los Andes, and many more, SokoText is on the rise and in the news.
[Watch SokoText’s pitch at the Clinton Global Initiative Hult Prize awards dinner]
[See co-founder Carolina Medina speak in Spanish about SokoText in this BID video]
I am just beginning to get involved and onboarded and am already learning tons, but I will leave my own insights on the challenging and fascinating process of building a social enterprise until I am further integrated into my job. In the meantime, I will leave you with some great local publicity about SokoText. On January 30th, 2015, SokoText was featured in an article in one of Colombia’s major newspapers, El Tiempo. Spanish speakers can follow the article link to read the original, and I will translate the text below for my English-speaking readers.
New solution for stocking corner stores via text message
Entrepreneurs hope to allow store owners save time and money by placing orders
Being able to order supplies of fruits and vegetables with a simple text message and having them arrive directly to your door seems like an incredibly attractive idea for store owners.
Especially for Victor Castaño, a store owner in the neighborhood of El Recreo in the area of Bosa, who has to get up at 3am in order to go to Corabastos [the enormous central food market of Bogotá where most store owners, business, and even individuals go each day to purchase their supplies].
The idea was created by five young entrepreneurs who implemented this model in marginalized neighborhoods in Kenya, and are now looking to replicate it in Bogotá. SokoText is the name of the project, which was named as one of the most innovative in Latin America by the Inter-American Development Bank [BID by its initials in Spanish]. Their goal is to prevent store owners from having to travel every day to large markets which, according to some of them, not only costs them money but also sometimes leaves them with lower-quality products.
According to SokoText’s research, small store owners spend 15 hours per week and 20 percent of their income traveling to central markets. Thus, the entrepreneurs’ proposal is simple: at night, the store owners place an order via text message for the produce they need; distribution centers are created close to the marginalized neighborhoods and receive products directly from agricultural producers so that the products remain in good condition; and a group of bicycle delivery staff is tasked with bringing the products to the stores the following morning.
The idea is to create collective daily orders in order to give the store owners access to wholesale prices—discounts that will also benefit the final consumer. “In other words, if we have five store owners and each one buys ten bananas, we create a collective daily order, and now it’s not just ten bananas, but 50, and thus we are able to purchase the products wholesale at a cheaper price”, explains Carolina Medina, leader of the project in Colombia.
In October of last year, they completed a pilot in ten stores in the neighborhood of Bosa, in which they had ten store owners participating. Castaño, who was one of them, reported that in addition to reducing his transportation costs, he saved around COP $40,000 [USD $16] per day. “Sometimes, when you buy in central supply markets, you realize that half of the products are good and the other half is in bad condition,” he commented.
“I buy my fresh produce in the big supermarkets in the neighborhood. It’s more expensive, but it’s difficult to travel all the way to Corabastos,” explained Joaquín Guzmán, a store owner in the neighborhood of San Cristóbal Norte.
The team hopes to carry out a larger pilot with 300 store owners during the first semester of this year, in order to then implement the model throughout the city.