“As investor you fall in love with the passion of an entrepreneur”

Irmgard Jansen
By on June 19, 2015

Malick Niang is the regional West Africa ICCO Investments manager based in Senegal. Malick has followed Zena Exotic Fruits for years and connected the business with the Inclusive Business Fund (IBF). His views are relevant for inclusive entrepreneurs who are looking for investments.

What type of enterprises do you follow as a regional investment manager?

malick niang“I am always building and extending my network and I follow several enterprises in my region. We are mainly interested in enterprises with a reasonable track record. Many companies that ask for funding are too small. In the build-up phase of a fund, in this case the Inclusive Business Fund, we must focus on relatively big projects because it is the same amount of work to check the numbers and do the due diligence.

We need to make sure that we recover the funds and make the social impact we are striving for. We will never get a social outcome if the company itself cannot be profitable and does not have the prospect of becoming self-sustainable. As an impact investor it is obviously part of our DNA to look at potential profitability.”

For which particular business proposition will Zena Exotic Fruits receive a loan?

“Zena Exotic Fruits (ZEF) is a family-owned agri and food business and was set up by the father of the current share-holder some 40 years ago. The company started selling jams, made in a garage. The son and current shareholder, Zoueir Filfili, took over the business and continued with his wife Randa, an extremely focused manager. She has won several entrepreneurship prizes, including the World Bank INFODEV prize as one of the top African Women Entrepreneurs in Agribusiness innovation. ZEF was also awarded a prize by the Senegalese private sector development agency and will receive grants for technical assistance in the fields of certification, financial management system improvement and HR capacity building in 2015 /16.

The activities of the company are a good fit with the ambition of Inclusive Business Fund to support SME’s that directly impact on the lives of poor people. Both Rabobank Foundation and ICCO Investments have a strong background in agriculture and will open up their networks and expertise to be a strategic partner to ZEF. The owners have a passion and know how to sell their products to different groups such as the hotels in Senegal. They know how to package and distribute and they even sell to the US market.

I have already known this company for many years and when I joined ICCO Investments I thought investing in this company would be a good fit. They have a processing facility, and even though it is small, they have proven to be able to build it up and make it profitable, even after everything was destroyed in a fire 8 years ago. After a few extensions to their facilities, they needed to buy new equipment to increase the productivity on existing production lines but also to develop the cereals business.

We have assessed the requirements and we decided to consider a first round of investment of €380,000 for CAPEX investment. The new equipment will be used for drying of fruits and breadcrumbs and for pasteurizing juices and jams. The products will be sold both in the local and in international markets.

To meet their ambition, they need this loan. Because we want to give them some time to build up the business, ZEF has one year of grace before starting to pay back. The IBF has provided Zena with some useful recommendations in the period they were considering the investment plan.”

Why is Zena considered to be a Base of the Pyramid business?

“ZEF sources most of its raw materials locally through farmer cooperatives and so they create a social impact. However, they never quantified this. ZEF sources for example from women cooperatives, but cannot mention the number of women involved. Still, they are providing many women with a higher and more stable and secure income. Moreover, Zena employs part-time workers, allowing women to combine their job with the family chores. The company is also employing disabled people, not because we asked them to do so, but because they believe in it.

To make a long story short: inclusiveness is part of Zena’s DNA. Moreover, the company donates food to schools, which is a win-win, because they get a lot of exposure. They have succeeded in getting many awards, such as the SME Quality award. They do a lot in terms of communicating these successes and are a best practice example for other Senegalese entrepreneurs. Part of the agreement with the Inclusive Business Fund is that impact will be monitored and the figures will be shared with investors.”

“Another major impact from the investment is the improved quality control. Although ZEF produces and sells high-quality and nutritious products, they did not apply appropriate administrative procedures and reports to provide the overview of the complete production, processing, packaging and distribution chain. For everyone involved, the business will be better if the quality can be so certified. We will keep advising them to get the right processes in place.”

Why did Zena approach the Inclusive Business Fund instead of a Senegalese bank?

“Senegal is a very stable country and there are some 20 registered commercial banks for some 13.5 million inhabitants. Furthermore, there is a huge micro finance movement. So far, the company has been working with one Senegalese Bank and from time to time they get a little credit. Over the last three years, Zena did attract the interest of many investors and some large companies.

However, the owners are eager to proof that they can grow and expand by themselves and they are passionate about it. They can talk about their products and their business for hours. As an investor you don’t fall in love with a business plan. You fall in love with the entrepreneur’s passion and drive for the business. Only then you start to dig into the numbers and to challenge them.

The owners and their level of involvement, their passion and the fact that they put their own money into the business tell you a lot. Part of the processes of an investment fund such as the Inclusive Business Fund, is to visit the company and to try to find out how the entrepreneur reacts to different situations, also outside of their offices. You want to know who these entrepreneurs are, what their level of energy is, if they can think out of the box and if they dare to be open. The fit with IBF was simply great.”


Visit the website of ICCO Investments.