While on a routine business trip, on behalf of the Clinton Health Access Initiative in Northern Nigeria, Mira Mehta observed that there were tremendous amounts of tomatoes wasting away on the side of the highway. Ever inquisitive, she asked around and soon learned that there were several easily mitigated factors that caused the current waste. She also learned that Nigeria was the number one importer of tomato paste in the world (spending over $400 million a year on this product- enough to fill the Empire State building twice). She then had an idea to create a factory to produce tomato paste domestically in Nigeria. However, the idea remained at the back of her mind for four years until a serendipitous conversation with a friend at the Harvard Business School (HBS) enlightened her that Alhaji Aliko Dangote (the wealthiest man in Africa) was building a tomato paste factory in Nigeria. Feeling that her idea was validated by one of the shrewdest businessmen on the planet, she and her co-founder, Shane Kiernan, decided to pursue this dream. They began extensive research and put a team together for the Social Enterprise Track at the HBS New Venture Competition. The team placed second in the competition, and secured a $25,000 grant to launch the business. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of research, meetings with government officials, visiting potential sites, forging relationships, incorporating in the U.S. and Nigeria, trademarking their brand name “Tomato Jos,” and modifying and testing their business model. Along the way they’ve had to overcome numerous obstacles, and faced difficult and dangerous situations. That notwithstanding, this intrepid duo have also managed to make a lot fans along the way They are currently running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to raise $50,000 to purchase equipment for their factory.
November 11, 2014