A suspected mass poisoning of infants in Nigeria due to a fake anti-teething mixture 13 years ago triggered the concoction of what would become a reliable online platform to fight medicinal counterfeits across Africa.
Relying on technology, tech entrepreneurs saw the urgent need to find a solution, as medicines were not the only products with life-threatening quality concerns.
“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,” Bright Simons co-founder of mPedigree told Enterprise.
The firm, which now tracks and traces seeds, pesticides, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals products uses a varied array of technologies to achieve this goal.
This is what has seen the firm recognised among the most innovative on the continent. It was recently ranked the second most innovative company in Africa this year by 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,” Mr Simon says.
In this market segment, mPedigree is now competing with global tech companies like IBM and SAP. To stay ahead, the firm has partnered with HP.
“Over time, we have discovered that there are cost and geographical advantages that gives us a very strong edge.”
Because of its ecosystemic problem solving model, Mr Simons adds, their 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 technological 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, allowing 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, and 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 notes.
Currently, there are over 100 million product categories on the platform, with about 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,” he says.
In the midst of a grand, strategic, partnership with Comesa to steadily transform standards compliance to enable trade harmonisation in agriculture across the 21 African countries of the confederation, the task for mPedigree is momentous.