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SME Profile: Origin

Co-founded by five ESADE MBAs, Origin is a social-impact start-up that helps improve nutrition and financial inclusion in some of the poorest parts of India.

It would be a fitting conclusion to Origin’s narrative if the boss’s achieved their goal of maximizing social impact – on an international scale. 

When the five co-founders met on the ESADE Business School part-time MBA program last year, they all had a passion for social impact and sustainability. It was why they chose ESADE in the first place.

And now several months down the line, they are preparing to give the start-up their full-time attention, rather than seek corporate MBA Jobs.

Cesar Del Valle, Greg Perowne, James Doherty, Jon Myer and Monica Noda banded together to tackle the Hult Prize 2013 – an international social impact competition – and although they didn’t win the finals and take $1 million in seed funding back to Barcelona, they decided to turn their project into a ‘real’ business. It is a for-profit enterprise.

Since then, Origin has been linking small grocery shops in India to the private and public sectors to help them sell healthier, more affordable food in the slums of India.

The co-founders also leveraged the power of the private and public sectors to improve the nutrition and financial inclusion of the urban poor. It is a true social impact start-up.

They ultimately hope to expand their reach to other continents, but they have to finish their MBA program first.

In this interview, Cesar, Greg, Jon and Monica share their plan for SME success and maximum social impact in some of the poorest regions of India.

What is the company's size?

At the moment it’s just the five founders. But throughout our time in India we built up a good network of advisors.

We also have a board of advisors as well as a key advisor in India, who has become our acting CEO in the region while we are back at ESADE.

What does the business do and what are your core/flagship products?

Origin is a new model for small retail, dedicated to nutrition and social inclusion. We link small grocery shops to the private and public sectors and help them sell healthier, more affordable food in the slums of India.

By empowering small retailers with low-cost technology, we combine their buying power and connect them to a more efficient and ethical supply chain.

Origin also leverages the power of the private and public sectors to improve the nutrition and financial inclusion of the urban poor.

We also work with local retailers to streamline their banking and help them remain free from corruption.

Who is the CEO/ founder?

There are actually five co-founders: Cesar Del Valle, Greg Perowne, James Doherty, Jon Myer and Monica Noda. All of whom are ESADE MBAs.

How was the company founded?

It all started through the Hult Prize competition last year, which presented the challenge of addressing the food shortage in urban slums. We were all very interested in social enterprise, but hadn’t yet focused on a specific issue.

Before the MBA, we hadn’t pin-pointed social start-ups, but we all had the idea of getting into the social enterprise sector somehow. We chose ESADE partly because of its focus on social impact and sustainability. Very quickly we came to meet each other and, as we had similar aspirations, we formed a team.

The competition got us to rally around this one cause and as we looked deeper into the issue, we starting defining who our customers would be and which geography we would target, and things progressed from there.

Which regions are covered?

Our work is focused on India at the moment, but on paper we would definitely like to do an expansion within the country – and international expansion would be ideal. We’ve looked at different markets, such as East Africa and Latin America, so ideally we could replicate this model and easily translate it to other markets.

But as you can imagine we don’t want to look too much into the future too soon. Like most start-ups, we’re more focused on the next five to ten months, rather than the next five to ten years.

Do you intend to work on the company full-time after graduation?

We hope to lay the groundwork now for when we graduate and, although we’re back to studying part-time now, we are looking to make sure this is a full-time project post-graduation.

We still meet regularly to discuss our strategy directions and how to maximize our impact. When we were competing with in the Hult Prize, we had constraints imposed on us in terms of what we could do with the business. 

How has an MBA helped you launched this business?

It gave us a broader perspective and multi-functional tools to solve any issues we had. But the most important way an MBA helps is that It gives us a more customer-centric look at problems, so we don’t get the idea that we have a product or solution that will change the world; instead, we develop and fine-tune our business based on customer feedback.

ESADE being a small business school, we have close connections to students and professors – and they are always more than happy to let us bounce ideas off them.

We received some funding from the school, nothing too large, but it has helped. They have been helpful and there are a good amount of resources we can utilize. 

To find out more about Origin and the team, visit: http://www.origin-network.org/

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