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Copenhagen MBA’s Social Enterprise Attracts Multi-Million-Dollar Valuation

Jack Langworthy’s social enterprise startup is revolutionizing agriculture in Tanzania. It’s backed by Silicon Valley big hitters like Uber co-founder Garrett Camp

By  Marco De Novellis

Wed May 24 2017

Jack Langworthy joined the one-year MBA program at Copenhagen Business School with no intention of starting his own business. Now, he’s co-founder and CEO of NINAYO, a crowd-sourced market intelligence platform with a multi-million-dollar valuation.

With NINAYO, Jack aims to revolutionize agriculture in Tanzania. In Tanzania, 80% of the workforce are independent farmers. But, historically, farmers and markets have been unable to communicate supply and demand effectively. 30% of food rots in Tanzania despite high demand.

Launched in 2015, NINAYO lets farmers and markets advertise to one another, drop a GPS pin in a map, and connect online; improving ease of commerce and creating new business opportunities.

NINAYO was one of six startups selected to go through Silicon Valley-based startup accelerator Expa Labs, where it received investment at a huge valuation and backing from Uber chairman and co-founder Garrett Camp. The mobile-friendly platform has over 22,000 active users. It’s even been endorsed in a speech by Barack Obama.

Jack chose Copenhagen over Ivy league business schools in the US for his MBA back in 2012 – and it was there that he gained the skills and the mindset to develop into a successful social entrepreneur.

The Copenhagen MBA has responsible management at its core, and the school’s Entrepreneurship Platform hosts regular events connecting aspiring MBA entrepreneurs with the local startup community in Denmark.

Crucially for Jack, it was the Copenhagen MBA’s Leadership Discovery Process – a unique personal development course which runs throughout the MBA program and touches on diverse topics like cognitive coaching, brain functions, and human understanding – that helped him become a better-rounded business leader.

After graduation, he had job offers from two leading Scandinavian firms: IKEA and Novo Nordisk. He made the MBA triple jump – changing role, industry, and location – and became a business analyst at IKEA’s Swedish HQ.

It was a great gig; Jack made regular presentations for IKEA’s senior leadership and CEO. But he still had an itch for international development work. In the Fall of 2014, he started developing NINAYO with an IKEA colleague in the evenings after work. In February 2016, he left to go full-time with his social enterprise.

Where are you at right now with NINAYO? What do you hope to achieve?

There is a looming food crisis in the East Africa today. NINAYO is providing access to over 16,000 tons of food. We’re steadily growing at a quick month-on-month clip. We continue to work with the UN, USAID, and a host of smaller NGOs, to connect new African farmers and markets.

I've been dividing my time between villages in East Africa – where I have no toilet, hot shower or refrigeration – and the fanciest offices in San Francisco, where my startup hero Tim Ferris pops by to record a podcast or prep for his TED talks. I get cultural whiplash going back and forth between these two worlds, but relish the opportunity to bridge the innovation of Silicon Valley with the vast amount of opportunity in developing markets like Tanzania.

What advice do you have for MBAs looking to start their own social enterprise?

Firstly, work in an area you know well and are passionate about. While you might feel compelled to relieve the food security crisis in East Africa, most people outside of the region should not try to solve that situation through building their own social enterprise. The existing on-the-ground efforts have the local knowledge needed to do a better job. It's better to look to your own community, where you know the market personally and can be up close and engaged with your stakeholders. Even the socialist paradise of Copenhagen, the happiest city in the world, is rife with opportunities for social enterprises!

The second piece of advice is to just go for it. I know that's going to make certain MBAs cringe because it sounds so unmethodical. But I think most of us are too nervous and overthinking to put our ideas into action, so we eventually lose interest. It's happened to me many times. Once you've got a minimal viable product (MVP), then it's time to get methodical about testing and iterating. Launching an MVP will teach you so much more than theorizing and SWOT diagramming ever will. And once you have an MVP you can point to, you will find it unlocks the doors to advisors and possible investors who would not have given you the time of day otherwise.


Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Copenhagen Business School?

Before applying to CBS, I was the logistics manager of a social enterprise that sold maize on behalf of poor farmers in Tanzania. My days were spent riding in lorries to far-flung African villages to procure, process, and resell the villages’ harvests. I was passionate about the work, but also eager to learn more about business, which I view as the only solution to poverty.

Soon, I was studying hard for the GRE. I was targeting the American Ivy League schools. I then found a Wall Street Journal study showed the average income of a Copenhagen MBA graduate was only slightly less than that of an Ivy League graduate.

Furthermore, the opportunity and financial costs were significantly lower because a Copenhagen MBA degree was one-year instead of two. I also liked the international element and small class size. Thankfully, the CBS admissions team was quick to turnaround my acceptance, and in about a month I was becoming a Dane and starting classes.

How has the Copenhagen MBA helped you in starting up your own social enterprise? 

When I attended Copenhagen Business School, I had no intention of starting my own business. But that's exactly what the Copenhagen MBA prepared me for.

In theory, the two things a CEO needs to do really well are HR and finance because if you hire the right people and manage the money appropriately it should be smooth sailing for the business from there. But the reality of startups is that founders need to be involved in everything before they can hire for that role. So, though I didn't realize it at the time, there were big payoffs from having a background in fields like marketing, accounting and organizational structure.

The Copenhagen MBA also emphasizes building leadership through its year-long Leadership Discovery Process. Though at first I definitely rolled my eyes, this became one of the most enjoyable classes in the program! Leadership and self-improvement are life-long practices, and the Copenhagen MBA provided me with a host of valuable tools for ongoing development.