The Acumen Fund $1.8m Investment in Ghanaian Sproxil Shows Why Innovation Rules

The news broke, March 22, 2011 that Acumen Fund,  a nonprofit global venture fund addressing poverty in South Asia and East Africa,  invested in Ghanaian Sproxil, Inc., a company that provides a Mobile Product Authentication™ (MPA™) solution that enables consumers to verify that the pharmaceutical product they are buying is genuine. The $1.8 million investment aims to help Sproxil to build its sales teams in the U.S. and Nigeria; to begin Sproxil’s expansion into India and Kenya; and to provide further improvements to the technology.

A press release read in part:

“With a decade of experience, Acumen Fund continues to invest in innovative businesses that have the potential to improve millions of lives and revolutionize emerging industries,” said Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO, Acumen Fund. “Sproxil will help combat the multi-billion dollar counterfeit drug market, empower customers and give them the resources to make informed pharmaceutical purchasing decisions. We will also gain key insights into the dynamics and possibilities of mobile technology, an increasingly critical tool for improving the lives of billions in the developing world, which we can then share with the community at large.”

Sproxil’s MPA solution allows consumers to verify that the product they are buying is genuine by using a mobile phone and a simple, free text message. Sproxil uses a scratch card method, similar to that used for replenishing cellular talk-time, to allow users to reveal a one-time-use code on drugs and text the code to a “911 for fake drugs” number which is identical on all cellular networks within a country. A response is dispatched from Sproxil’s servers, indicating whether the drug is genuine or fake. If a fake product is found, a consumer is given a hotline number to call in order to report the fake product. The hotline is a Sproxil call center that currently reports the fake product to the Nigerian Agency for Food, Drug and Administrative Control (NAFDAC) for further investigation. In other countries, the counterfeit product is reported to the appropriate authorities.

Recently many African startups are receiving funds – Ushahidi, Virtual City and the hosts of other companies. The key thing is that the innovative ones will get more phone calls because their ideas are great. It is about finding a niche and executing to capitalize on that. Africa is at the point in history where the world is looking to trade with it as a balanced partner and anyone that innovates will be rewarded.

Sproxil was founded in 2009, has 12 staff members and offices in Somerville, Mass. and Lagos, Nigeria.

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