Since 1960, agriculture has served as the backbone of Nigeria’s economy, and yet there still remain endless opportunities for growth in agricultural value chains. Releaf is driving this growth by fostering trust among businesses in the Nigerian agricultural sector.
Launched by Nigerian Americans that have attended the likes of Yale, Duke, and MIT, Releaf connects Nigerian agribusinesses to customers they can trust.
The three founders Ikenna Nzewi, Uzoma Ayogu, and Isaiah Udotong are all Nigerian-Americans, with Engineering and Computer Science backgrounds.
Prior to launching the company, the founders worked at Bain, Microsoft, and Facebook, respectively.
The team has secured a $120,000 investment from YCombinator, the world’s most prestigious early startup investor, to scale its solution in Nigeria. Up until the investment, its founders were working on Releaf part-time while students.
Inspired to work in Nigerian agriculture by former Minister of Agriculture and current AfDb President Akinwumi Adesina, the three founders spent the past several months, working to understand the challenges facing businesses in Nigerian agricultural sector.
Through hundreds of calls and several trips on-ground, the group continued to hear that one of the largest challenges these businesses face is obtaining buyers for their products.
Despite existing B2B solutions crafted to connect businesses, that problem has been consistently the most frequently mentioned.
Unlike conventional B2B models where sellers post what they sell and wait for buyers, Releaf’s platform allows sellers to bid for active buyer contracts. Sellers with mutual contacts to the buyer are given preference.
Co-founder Ikenna says, “Portals with millions of African businesses do not facilitate many true business connections, because most business originates through word of mouth. It became clear to us most of the business-to-business challenges result from a lack of trust.”
First, businesses register and indicate which commodities they are looking to sell. Then, they are presented with a list of verified buyer contracts for those commodities that they may apply to.
Finally, Releaf verifies the seller and, if they are qualified, makes a direct connection between the two parties.
Instead of cold inquires being sent to buyers, contacting is directly facilitated by Releaf to ensure a 90 percent response rate from clients.
One of key benefits on the platform is when businesses provide more information about who they work with, they increase the likelihood of the platform informing them of a mutual connection shared with a buyer contract holder.
If Chima Amechi has five business relationships and Ade Olutobi has five business relationships, their connection can result in each of them gaining five new business relationships.
Releaf’s business network is referral-driven. Companies with mutual ties are also recommended to connect with one another as done on Facebook. Sharing more trusted business contacts will increase the chance of finding a mutual connection with a buyer.. Having mutual contacts makes it five times more likely to secure a contract.
This fall, the team plans to relocate to Nigeria and scale the business on-ground. The company, operating in stealth thus far, has already verified over 600 agribusinesses and facilitated over 100 connections, but they are now publicly allowing agribusinesses to apply for verification.
Releaf aims to map out Nigerian agriculture in its entirety over the next 12 months by registering 20,000 businesses.
Though currently focused on Nigerian Agriculture, the company aims to serve as a central platform that powers African trade in the future.
Isaiah Udotong, CEO of Releaf explains: “Our vision is to make doing business in Africa easier. For too long, reliable business has been restricted to few trusted partners and have not found success finding partners on B2B sites. At Releaf, we believe with a larger trusted business network, private sector growth can be stimulated across the African continent.”