From the Americas to Africa
The success of ConnectAmericas spurred Maersk to start a similar project in Africa. Fromtu is a digital B2B trading platform connecting African suppliers with global and intra-African buyers. Fromtu will provide African producers and traders with the tools to grow their business, knowledge and networks. The platform will simplify the trading journey for buyers and sellers alike. Maersk has established Fromtu as a separate company under Maersk Growth Initiatives. Development of the platform is currently underway with the launch planned to occur later in 2017 in East Africa.
Read more: ConnectAmericas
Way up in the Peruvian highlands, more than 3000m above sea level, farmers are growing organic superfoods such as quinoa, amaranth and chia. Their farms might be small-scale, but their products end up on the shelves of organic shops and supermarket chains in the UK, US and Asia under the Ecoinca label.
Ecoinca is the brainchild of Peruvian entrepreneur Rachelle Olortegui, who was inspired to start an organic farming business after living in Australia where she worked at a nursery for native plants.
“I wanted to start a business with a purpose,” she says. “My focus was to help ensure better working conditions and fair wages for farmers, and a sustainable harvest without pesticides and chemicals.”
Social media for companies
Olortegui’s biggest obstacles were access to financing and markets. Having discovered the lack of local demand for organic produce, she needed an export market.
“It was very difficult to get the business off the ground initially,” says Olortegui. “I went to trade fairs. But sometimes you have to go many times without getting any sales because people have to get to know you first.”
She was then introduced to ConnectAmericas – a new online platform developed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as a way to help SMEs in the Americas overcome barriers to trade. Maersk was involved as a partner, bringing expertise on shipping and logistics to the project.
ConnectAmericas works as a social media site for companies. Sellers create a free profile with details of their product, and interested buyers contact them directly. The site offers all the tools needed for a company to grow its business, from online training courses, seminars, business rounds and purchasing announcements from governments and big companies.
“It was a case of ‘right place at the right time’ when I discovered ConnectAmericas,” explains Olortegui. “For us, it was a way to get connected with clients around the world. You present your products to potential buyers from all five continents. In just a few days, you can kick-start negotiations that would have taken months to achieve through traditional channels.”
Enabling trade online
“When entrepreneurs start out it’s hard to get access to information, understand how to get the financing or find reliable companies to do business with,” says Rafael E. González, Maersk’s Partnership Manager for the project.
“A lot of small and medium-sized enterprises just don’t know how to get their products out to international markets.”