A suspected mass poisoning of infants in Nigeria due to a fake anti-teething mixture sparked a business idea that would grow to become a reliable online platform to fight fake medicines.
The platform, mPedigree, which is now used across the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa), a regional trading bloc, is the brain child of Bright Simons who saw the urgent need to find a solution.
“The most sustainable path was to develop a revenue model through enterprise sales. Through that, a tech startup with a strong social mission was born,” co-founder of mPedigree Bright Simons said.
The firm, which has now expanded to tracks and traces seeds, pesticides, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals product,s uses a varied array of technologies to achieve this goal.
Because of its “ecosystemic problem solving model”, Mr Simons notes, the innovation provides platforms to government partners, enterprise software to corporate clients and digital apps to consumers.
“Because we work in many low-resource settings, we have technologies suited for every terrain. For consumers, we even scale down our technology to work on plain old SMS messaging,” he explains.
In a period of Industry 4.0 disruption, the firm uses Goldkeys, a tech platform that combines the strengths of machine learning, blockchain, cloud computing and Big Data to deliver services.
While the world faces a challenge in vaccination methodologies, mPedigree applies computer vision and smart polymers through a patent-pending technology called thermos-cypher.
“Goldkeys provides 360-degrees supply chain visibility, control and transformation. It enables clients to protect their brands from counterfeiting, enabling them to implement market research at an affordable cost,” says Mr Simons.
This therefore, helps regulatory bodies to enforce quality assurance, intelligence gathering and standards automation, reducing the bottleneck of bureaucracy and delays.
But how long does it take to identify a counterfeit product, what’s the process?
“For consumers, they text a special code on protected products via SMS or scan a security barcode using a smartphone app, all in a few seconds,” he says.
Brand owners, however, need to implement a more elaborate process of serialisation, traceability and tracking.
“Most steps are automated such that in a few weeks, millions of products in thousands of batches can be secured and tracked from factory to store shelf. Regulators can be plugged in to reinforce the security of the overall system without building any new infrastructure,” he expounds.
Currently, there are over 100 million product categories on the platform, with soon 3 billion units of products registered, authenticated and analysed.
The data, Mr Simons reveals, also extends to production, consumer behaviour, logistics and security, impacting more than 150 million lives regarding security.
But challenges have always ensued, stemming from the need for quick updates on products on digital compliance, a process that requires policy-making and regulatory decision-making.
Government agencies can also be slow to move and big corporations like to wait and see.
“Without substantial re-wiring of supply chain standards and rules to incorporate digital, our expansion and growth is extremely constrained,” he says.
He adds that changing such major aspects of how things are done in any context requires political influence of some kind, and that kind of power is hard to muster for a single social enterprise.
“It sometimes takes us a very long time to mobilise the necessary partnerships to rollout ecosystemic solutions that truly make a difference.”
In the midst of a grand, strategic, partnership with Comesa to steadily transform standards conformance to enable trade harmonisation in agriculture across the 21 African countries of the confederation, the task for mPedigree is momentous.
“Even though the Comesa team is deeply committed to the strategy, many government agencies need constant encouragement and steering.”
The company, which has operations in Kenya, was recently ranked the second most innovative company in Africa this year by ranking company Fast Company.
“We are thrilled to have moved up from fifth in the continent in our last ranking to second. The work we are doing requires extensive partnerships and its impact on our social mission cannot be gainsaid.”
In this market, mPedigree is now competing with global tech companies like IBM and SAP, a situation that has seen it partner with HP.