Copia Kenya, the ”Amazon for rural populations”, was among a small number of startups from around the world selected to host a Global Entrepreneurship Laboratory (G-Lab) project in collaboration with the MIT Sloan School of Management, founder of the international entrepreneurial program.
Founded in 2013 by Silicon Valley veterans Tracey Turner and Jonathan Lewis and headquartered in Nairobi, Copia connects customers in rural areas to its marketplace via personal agents, by phone, text messaging, USSD or smart phone app.
The company is currently serving hundreds of thousands of Kenyans, including those with little access to the internet. Their internally managed, tech-enabled logistics operation achieves best in class delivery costs of consumer goods despite often poor road infrastructure and no addresses.
Crispin Murira, Copia’s Founding CEO, said, “We are honoured to be working with MIT Sloan’s G-Lab team on this venture and are confident the team will deliver solutions specific to our and our customers’ needs.”
Three students from MIT and one from Harvard Law School are collaborating virtually with Copia Global on researching successful marketplace supply chains in a developing world context to report on best practices, analyzing the technology in use and any unique processes put in place, and the revenues generated. They will then consult on what Copia Global should consider putting in place within its supply chain along with creating a financial model on the cost of enabling and adapting technology and processes along with revenue projection.
In light of the global pandemic, G-Lab’s theme this year is “B2G-Lab, Back to Growth.” The international student team includes Chun Man Chow, PhD, MIT Department of Chemical Engineering; Keitumetse (Tumi) Molamu, MIT Sloan Master of Science in Management Studies, ’21; Kunal Sanghani, MIT Leaders for Global Operations Dual Degree Program; ’21; and Cathy Wu, Harvard Law School JD’21, who is a cross-registered student enrolled in the course.
In a statement, the G-Lab team said, ” We are fortunate to be the first MIT G-Lab team to work with Copia, and we look forward to seeing the amazing things that they will accomplish in the future.”
Since 2000, MIT Sloan’s G-Lab teams have worked on business problems with more than 482 startup and growing companies on 643 projects located in 54 emerging and frontier markets across the globe in such critical areas as strategic growth, new market entry, pricing, marketing, benchmarking, fundraising, and financial strategy.
For the first time in 21 years, the student teams have been unable to travel internationally to work onsite due to the pandemic. Michellana Jester, Managing Director of G-Lab, says, “We’ve activated our global network of transformative CEOs and other leaders and are creating authentic market understanding—cultural, geopolitical and financial—through virtual treks in class sessions hosted by local unicorn founders and other key ecosystem players. These insights are in addition to the core entrepreneurial experience of each B2G-Lab team’s strategic growth project with their host company.”
The teams’ final deliverables include a formal presentation and concrete “leave behinds” that deliver high-impact tools, which can be put to use immediately.
“For many years we have worked with entrepreneurs across Africa,” says MIT Sloan Prof. Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund and G-Lab co-founder. “Now, as the world battles COVID-19, these men and women show remarkable resilience and offer great prospects for the future. It is a privilege—and an education—for our students to contribute to their growth.”
G-Lab is one of 15 pioneering Action Learning labs available to students at MIT Sloan. While project activities vary, they are united by common themes, including experiential, reflective, and peer learning; faculty mentoring; real-world problem solving; knowledge transfer; and, perhaps unique to MIT Sloan, a student team engagement intended to have a measurable business and/or social impact. These real-time management challenges bring theory to life.