When Vital Sounouvou began college, a professor bluntly told the class no one would find a job after college. Just like that.
“It was quite shocking and wake up call as a freshmen,” Sounouvou said. “I concluded that you have to start your own business — it’s the only way to have security.”
Several entrepreneurial test runs later, Sounouvou graduated from college and created Exportunity. A mashup of export and opportunity, Exportunity is in the business of helping businesses succeed. It’s an online shopping mall where small and medium enterprises in Africa can access the international market to trade products.
“We like seeing dreams come true,” he said. “Especially the people who have the lowest possibility of making it happen.” Those people are farmers, artisans and tailors, he said.
In 2008, Sounouvou and his classmates organized Benin’s largest trade show, and he has since traveled around the world to neighboring African countries, the U.S., and Dubai to learn more about trade and preach the importance of investing in African business.
With his finger on the pulse of the community, Sounouvou and his team repurposed Exportunity from a social media site to a full-fledged e-commerce platform that vets each shop owner so the biggest hindrance to African trade is absolved — credibility. Exportunity also touts an interface that is friendly for non-smartphone users, inviting that sizeable group in the country’s population to participate.
“Entrepreneurs are people who realize that reality is just the beginning you have to add your own contribution,” he said. “Making money is a just a consequence – it’s the effect you want to see happen. You sleep late at night and wake up happy because you’re doing what you love.”
For Exportunity to succeed, Sounouvou said he’s working toward a six-month intense incubation period,
a fresh team, and financial resources. Earning ompany visibility and trust is top of mind for the young CEO.
“And we need advice,” he said. “We’re young and we make mistakes — mistakes are expensive.”
Exportunity’s been a four year-long journey, with many more years to come. When asked what keeps him going, Sounouvou pointed to a fresh tattoo on his forearm, the answer permanently etched in black ink. Gratitude.
“Take the the time to thank every single person who took the time to teach you,” he said. “It’s so beautiful to see somebody cherish a dream and help make it happen. Personally that’s what makes me full and feel complete.”