First prize in the Skoll Venture Awards is recognition that Boresha Technologies is living up to its name
“The technology is as simple as possible, and so is the process,” says Louis Slade, of Boresha Technologies. “The aim is simple, too: to optimise the ability of smallholders in East Africa to manage their supply chains and obtain investment.”
A glance at the strides made by Boresha since it was set up by James Thorogood, an Oxford Rhodes Scholar, shows that it is already living up to its name. In Swahili, ‘boresha’ is a verb meaning to improve. That’s what Boresha is doing to the lives of its first users, those who work at the Dwaniro Cooperative – Uganda’s largest dairy cooperative.
“Dwaniro was an ideal place for product testing, with some 400 farmers using the site,” says Slade. “They use paper or Excel record-keeping systems, which means that reconciling receipts is a multi-day ordeal each month.” Boresha solves this digitally, giving the cooperative an easy-to-use, data-entry tool with tailor-made business intelligence reports and alerts. It works on any version of Android, is available offline, and is backed up on Boresha’s database as well as on the user’s device.
Boresha’s CEO and founder, James Thorogood, came up with the idea for Boresha thanks to a year spent working with East African dairy traders. Thorogood, who has an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management, realised that small farmers need liquidity to operate their businesses; without it, growth is impossible – and poverty entrenched. “Many farmers do not have adequate cash flow to invest in farm productivity, cope with irregular income, and withstand shocks like hospital bills or the death of a cow,” he explains. “They’re also at the mercy of unscrupulous lenders: effective APRs of 40 to 60% are common in East Africa.”
Boresha, set up by Thorogood in 2017, provides reliable and low-cost sources of working capital for small farmers, by managing invoicing and supply chain finance. Boresha also ensures lending processes are crystal clear by using a hybrid of digital ledgers, voice messaging, and paper pay stubs. The potential effects are profound, from improving an individual’s own business to securing better investment in rural supply chains and connecting agribusiness owners with capital for investing in storage, transport and other assets. Moreover, automated payments to farmers via mobile money wallets and bank accounts helps reduce the risk of robbery, while the provision of real-time information helps cooperatives better serve farmers.
Raising their game
Boresha’s team – Thorogood, Slade, and Sahabu Gateja (the Chief Operating Officer and country director in Uganda) – were thrilled by Boresha’s summer 2018 pilot in Uganda. “The reception was very enthusiastic,” says Slade. “We were able to learn a lot from the results and we’re excited to enter our next design phase.”
Boresha is set to take its next step – profiling some 5,000 to 10,000 dairy farmers in south west Uganda – with a significant boost, having bagged first prize in the Said Business School’s 2018 Skoll Venture Awards. Coming first out of a pool of 52 early stage social ventures meant Boresha won £20,000 which, says Thorogood, is “a huge milestone. All our work has been done out of pocket so far and we’re incredibly excited about what this £20,000 can do for Boresha Technologies.”
Boresha is also participating in the OXFO L.E.V8, the new accelerator at the Oxford Foundry, giving Thorogood and his colleagues valuable access to a network of investors, mentors and entrepreneurial experts. “L.E.V8 has already changed our thinking about the future of our company,” says Thorogood. “Our business has seriously accelerated now that we’ve tapped into Oxford’s vast networks with global companies, prominent entrepreneurs, and domain experts. We’ve raised our sights, and our game.”