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How this African Diaspora is keeping the tradition of African storytelling alive

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My name is Hermine Mbondo. I’m the founder of B4brand, a Toronto-based bilingual English/French storytelling-driven marketing agency for purpose-driven brands. While consumers are always enticed to buy more, at B4brand we believe that marketing has a greater purpose than consumerism and should empower people to buy smart, by putting their money where their heart is. So we made it our mission to create stories that connect brands that take a stand on values with people who share those values through engaging storytelling content.  

For some, storytelling has lately become a marketing buzzword. For us, at B4brand, storytelling is rooted in our identity. In fact, the B in B4brand stands for:

  • Brand – because we promote brands that are making a difference and have a positive impact –,
  • Bilingual – since we provide our services in English and French, Canada’s official languages, but we also offer a multilingual platform – and
  • Bassa – because our storytelling originates from the Bassa tribe of Cameroon, a tribe that has been using storytelling as part of their oral traditions to pass down knowledge from one generation to the next.

So, this is where my journey starts. I was born in the hinge of Africa, in a land where West and Central Africa meet. I grew up listening to these amazing tales during my summer vacations in our village. At twilight, one of my aunts would gather all the kids and start telling us stories before going to bed. Those legends, myths, tales, riddles, songs, and proverbs rocked my early childhood and inspired me to read more, write more, and somehow instilled in me a lifelong love for storytelling.

I left my native Cameroon and moved to France at 8 years of age. Among the many things that France has given to me, education by far was the game changer. I graduated from a business school with Master’s degree in Management, majoring in Consumer Marketing, and I quickly gained international work experience, holding various marketing and communications positions in France, Canada, and the US. But it wasn’t until I moved to Toronto in April 2016 that I fully embraced entrepreneurship.

I arrived in Toronto in a snowy yet beautiful day with my suitcase, a need for a change of scenery, my Master’s degree in my pocket, and a decade’s worth of international work experience. This cosmopolitan, vibrant, and bustling city seemed just like the perfect place for a fresh start. Toronto also turned out to be a great place to start a business venture and ignited my entrepreneurial spirit. So much so that I founded B4brand in 2017 and a few months later, I turned my side hustle into a full time business in 2018.

Entrepreneurship is not an easy road. Fortunately, Toronto’s booming entrepreneurial ecosystem provides resources to support business ideas and turn them into start-ups, from settlement and community organizations, to incubators, and accelerators, to name a few. Living in such a diverse city also gave me an unique opportunity to connect with a whole portion of the African Diaspora that I knew little to nothing about before, including Africans originally from English speaking countries. In my three years in Toronto, I have met so many smart, driven professionals, entrepreneurs, and investors who share the same desire to participate in Africa’s economic development.

We might be away from the motherland. We might not even share the same experiences or the same attachment to the motherland. However, it provides great hope to witness and take part in this rising movement of individuals who each, at their own level, contributes to take control of the African narrative and write our own story, by investing in and using technology to create a better future for Africans, among so many other entrepreneurial initiatives.

Also Read: The Rockefeller Foundation Appoints Two African Female Leaders to Board of Trustees

B I O G R A P H Y

Cameroonian-born B4brand founder, Hermine Mbondo, is an enthusiastic entrepreneur who is writing her story in her own unique way. Born in “Little Africa”, raised in France and now living in Canada, this bilingual English/French Marketing Consultant by day also happens to be a world-traveler by addiction, and a foodie by passion.

She graduated from a top French business school with a Master’s degree in Management, majoring in Consumer Marketing. Prior to focusing on storytelling, Hermine Mbondo started her career in Communications at a Paris-based agency then landed a position on a client side at Carrefour Group, one of the world’s largest retailers. She then expanded her skills and horizons and acquired valuable trade marketing skills, working directly with buyers and managing sales reps in the US. In 2012, she was appointed Marketing Manager of a French cookware manufacturer and spearheaded the rebranding of a portfolio of foodservice and retail brands, implementing effective online and offline worldwide marketing strategies.

With over a decade of international marketing experience under her belt, Hermine Mbondo decided in 2017, just a year after moving to Toronto, to use her proven marketing expertise for the greater good and founded B4brand, a storytelling-driven marketing agency for purpose-driven brands.

Email us at hello@b4brand.ca

Visit us at B4brand

By: Hermine Mbondo

Afripreneur

Trueflutter – Matchmaking App for singles of African descent: Interview with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

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Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye

Trueflutter is a matchmaking app built for single Africans on the continent and in diaspora, in search of committed, fulfilling relationships. An online community of Single Africans in search of something real, make genuine and authentic connections. The App takes you beyond surface appearances with the use of audio bios to hear what a person sounds like and what’s important to them even before you connect. In this interview, Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Trueflutter’s Co-Founder, Dare Olatoye on his experience growing a Matchmaking brand, successes and challenges in Africa. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself, business and the gap it’s filling?

Dare: My name is Dare Olatoye, I’m the co-founder of Trueflutter which is a matchmaking app for Africans on the continent and in diaspora

Alaba: What’s the inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for Trueflutter?

Dare: My sister got married for the first time when she was 47 years old. She met a great guy and they have a beautiful family. The interesting thing is that the person she married lived just 15 minutes away from her and had also been searching for a partner for many years.

Thinking about that, I realized this was a problem that technology could solve, which is why my brother and I set out to build Trueflutter.

Our vision is to provide a platform where single Africans can easily connect with highly compatible partners.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Dare: The major challenge people have with online dating is that most of the profiles have sparse or superficial information. Our platform helps you get a much deeper insight into a potential match with the use of Audio Bios and responses to carefully thought out prompts.

Alaba: How long has Trueflutter been in business?

Dare: We launched the MVP in September 2018 and had over 15,000 users sign up. That helped us gain valuable user insight which we built into the current version that was launched in January 2021.

Alaba: What are the key initiatives for the success of the business and great accomplishments?

Dare: To us success simply boils down to assembling a great team at Trueflutter and building a great community around the product. This means the most important thing we can do is listen to our users and ensure our product continues to evolve based on their feedback.

Alaba: Kindly share your most difficult moment in business and what did you learn?

Dare: Our founding team has always been very goal driven and when we set targets, we drive ourselves incredibly hard to achieve them. We had set a goal to launch the new platform on January 8th 2021 and had all our promotional partners ready to go.

However we experienced a serious setback in timelines with our development and ideally should have postponed the launch date, but we literally worked 18 hour days to still meet the timeline.

Unfortunately we launched prematurely, with quite a number of bugs on the platform. We have since resolved these but that premature launch meant we lost many of the early adopters of the platform. The major lesson is that it’s okay to release a product that is not yet perfect, with the caveat that users know it is still on beta (just like what Clubhouse did). Public launch dates should only be set when the platform has been stress tested by thousands of users and you know the user experience will be flawless.

Alaba: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Trueflutter’s growth and/or the user experience?

Dare: I think online dating is one of those few industries that thrived because of the pandemic. We saw an 820% spike in activity on our platform and a 270% increase in organic downloads. Our voice and video call features are also now used by more people with duration of calls at an all time high.

Alaba: What’s your favourite feature of the App so far?

Dare: Hands down it’s the Audio Bio feature, which also lets you reply with a voice note to users you like. People don’t actually realize how much your voice says about you, and when they listen to someone’s audio bio, it helps them easily decide whether or not they want to connect.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in the next 5 years?

Dare: As the primary platform where single Africans on the continent and in diaspora meet.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Dare: I am incredibly proud to see what my peers on the continent are doing. Despite the challenges of funding and infrastructure, we are beating the odds to build incredible products that are solving real problems. And the rest of the world is sitting up to take notice.

Alaba: Finally, what advice would you give entrepreneurs and investors in your industry?

Dare: To entrepreneurs, I would say every challenge is teaching you something. Every investor that walks away from your pitch meeting without investing, does so for a reason and if you find out why, it will make you better prepared for the next pitch.

Every customer that leaves a bad review is communicating a problem that thousands of other users are also experiencing, so you shouldn’t take it personal but embrace the feedback with gratitude.

For investors looking at the online dating space, few people realize how profitable it could be until they start diving into the numbers. But they also need to realize that it’s a long game, and like most consumer tech products, needs to be approached from the perspective of a long term investment. Trueflutter has been very fortunate to attract these kinds of investors.

 

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Prudence Ramotso: The South African entrepreneur who turned her love for shoes into a brand

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Prudence Ramotso, Founder and CEO of PRUDENT (Source: Prudence Ramotso)

Prudence Ramotso is a South African young lady who is passionate about fashion and envisioned a different kind of a brand that cares about customers and offer high quality products services. She decided to follow her dreams by creating the brand PRUDENT. A brand with designs inspired by African names, Prudent Shoes is a South African Shoe Brand established in 2019 and manufactured by one of the best and finest stylish shoe makers in Italy. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Prudence shares her entrepreneurship journey, the gap her brand is filling in the industry and the future. Excerpt.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself and your brand?

Prudence: My name is Prudence Ramotso, I was born and raised in the Vaal (Sebokeng). I love shoes and fashion , I am ambitious and goal driven. I realized there was a gap in the South African female footwear when I was shopping around for shoes back in 2016, my entrepreneurial spirit couldn’t let this to rest. After my research in 2019 PRUDENT shoes was born, we offer what was missing in the market which is good quality shoes at affordable prices and shoes that have characters from the African names that are engraved on the outsoles.

Alaba: What inspired you to go into entrepreneurship and start Prudent?

Prudence: The rate of unemployment in South Africa increases daily and knowing that I have the ability to make a difference and create jobs in the future inspires me everyday. I took my love and passion for shoes and turned it into a brand that fills the gap in the female footwear industry. It started in my bedroom on my cell phone. I left my full time job as a financial advisor for an insurance company and gave birth to PRUDENT shoes in 2019 and I never looked back again.

Alaba: What makes your brand USP stand out and how has the market responded to your products?

Prudence: Our shoes are made of high quality material and attention to details (better workmanship). Our insoles are glued and stitched on, with our unique style names engraved on the outsoles. Like the brand name says PRUDENT, you take prudent steps when walking in our shoes, which means taking careful and calculated steps you think for the future.

The market response is very good, customers are happy with the quality and saying the shoes make them comfortable. Most customers say the shoes speak to them laughing.

Alaba: Any challenges so far since you launched early this year?

Prudence: The challenges we have is reaching a big scale of the market and getting the brand out there.

Alaba: In what way do you think the South African government can support entrepreneurs?

Prudence: Government must encourage localism, encouraging customers to “buy local” is a pillar of regional development strategies. There are products that are not manufactured in South Africa due to lack of suppliers, however they are South African brands and they make us a competitive country. Also, the government should give small businesses a real advantage in procurement policies and the process must be clear, protective and accessible to all small businesses.

Alaba: Where do you see your brand in 5 years?

Prudence: I see my brand growing and being the trusted female footwear brand in South Africa and in 10 year recognized globally. Also, as a brand helping fight the high rate of unemployment.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Prudence: Being an African entrepreneur feels amazing at the same time is hard and exciting. We are 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies as Africa and the ease of doing business in Africa is improving to an extent that a good number of countries including South Africa, Ghana, Mauritius and Tunisia now outperform China, India, Brazil and Russia, we can say our future is bright as AFRICAN entrepreneurs.

Alaba: A little piece of advice to young and budding entrepreneurs out there?

Prudence: Believe in yourself and your dreams, it is true your network is your networth. Be persistent and never give up, start where you are with what you have and go for it. If you can imagine it , you can do it!

 

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Babusi Nyoni, the Zimbabwean Powering Africa’s Digital Health Economy with Sila Health

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Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. Sila Health provides last-mile health care access across Africa using chat platforms and machine learning, creating comprehensive datasets to advance regional healthcare. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Babusi shared the Sila Health journey and the vision to provide healthcare access to Africa’s most economically vulnerable. Excerpt.

 

How It Started

I started Sila Health in 2019 as an AI-powered health service after my mother fell ill in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo. Complications related to a relatively manageable condition (megaloblastic anemia) had gone misdiagnosed several times in the city’s under-resourced public health institutions, nearly costing her life until she sought private care.

Unfortunately her story is one of many across Africa where doctor-patient ratios are an average 1:5000 and low income levels mean quality healthcare is out of reach for many even as the continent’s internet growth and mobile payment adoption rates continue to outstrip the world. I saw an opportunity to connect millions of uninsured patients to healthcare providers on existing chat apps while helping them manage and find information on easily treatable conditions instantly on our platform just as my mother does.

Today we help thousands of Africans and their governments affordably bridge health gaps at scale and we are connecting the continent’s growing telemedicine industry to its first billion customers.

The Problem

Africa’s digital health infrastructure is not built to scale as millions struggle with accessing basic health and medical care through traditional methods. Currently online health advice is inaccessible to most of the region’s inhabitants as many online health-solutions are data-heavy and are not built with the context of the African user in mind while players in the healthcare ecosystem lack the real-time data insights needed to contain the spread of preventable diseases.

Additionally, Africa’s telemedicine industry is growing at a slower rate than its global counterparts. Many surveyed telemedicine platforms struggle with recruiting quality patients due to the high costs of acquisition. Existing patient management platforms lack the features needed to provide comprehensive and scalable patient aftercare.

The Solution

The Sila Health user-facing product is a chatbot that enables individuals in low income countries with limited access to healthcare and the internet to instantly obtain health advice that can help them significantly improve their health. If the automated interaction proves insufficient a user can make an appointment with a trained healthcare services  provider via phone. Our services require very little internet data, therefore are accessible to our target group and our integrated COVID-19 module that helps people see if they show symptoms of being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Our chatbot is accessible via Facebook chat, WhatsApp and SMS. These platforms are very popular among our target groups and are accessible on the lowest data plan tiers. By having our product accessible via these platforms the user is able to have access to medical information with very little internet data costs. Other medical chatbots require expensive app-downloads and are generally inaccessible to users with low-incomes. Our product is built for low to middle income households first, and for that reason has gained significant  popularity with a 5/5 star rating and over 50% month over month growth. 

Data Product

Sila Trends, our data product, enables NGOs and governments to obtain real-time data on reported symptoms in the areas they preside over. Where currently health data is hard and expensive to access, our tool enables our clients to: 

  1. Quickly recognize breakouts of infectious diseases, which is crucial for a quick and informed response. 
  2. Follow general health trends real-time to better evaluate health policy. Understand what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Predict the future demand for health equipment and medication by locale.

Telemedicine Product

Lifeline, our data product, helps telemedicine platforms struggling with acquiring quality users by handling the triage process on WhatsApp, Messenger and SMS and referring only high-intent users to partners. Lifeline provides doctors with critical context on a patient’s history including their profile, reported symptoms and triage result. We also provide environmental context on common symptoms in the patient’s location powered by our analytics product, Sila Trends. This saves your practice time and money. Lifeline helps practices across Africa achieve the following

  1. Increase practice revenue by 12% 
  2. Reduce administrative costs by 30% 
  3. Increase quality of care by 5% through improving outcomes.

Prepaid Cover Product

HealthPass is a prepaid product that allows Africans living in the diaspora to pay for and provide world-class healthcare for their loved ones back home. Smarter than medical aid, fulfilled by verified healthcare practitioners, HealthPass members enjoy pharmacy perks, free delivery and more; all from less than the price of a Netflix subscription.

Benefits include: 

  1. Guaranteed medical & dental cover, members can explore a world of benefits with the HealthPass network of verified providers.
  2. A virtual pharmacy wallet that enables sponsors to automatically manage and pay for prescribed medications at no extra cost.
  3. Free country-wide prescription delivery for all members with medicine delivered directly to each doorstep.

B I O G R A P H Y 

Babusi Nyoni is the co-founder and CEO of Sila Health, a global social enterprise that helps people everywhere access healthcare on any mobile device. He uses emerging technology to develop sustainable solutions for communities in the global South. He founded Sila Health after identifying an opportunity for artificial intelligence to fill the institutional voids created by poor healthcare systems in developing economies. Babusi has a strong passion for new ideas that will change the lives of those around him and is a firm believer that African innovation will shape the technological zeitgeist worldwide.

Other Current Responsibilities;

His is an Innovation Consultant to UNHCR (Switzerland); helps drive innovation to assist and protect millions of refugees, returnees, internally displaced and stateless people. Technology Advisory Board Member at Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (UK); He advises the UK-based global foundation on Artificial Intelligence implementation at scale. Technology Advisory Board Member at UNDP Africa Leading the 4th Industrial Revolution Technical Advisory Group(UK); he provides technical advice and guidance for the Africa Leading 4IR portfolio of activities.

 

 

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