The startup True Moringa was inspired by the African Tree, Moringa
True Moringa was inspired by the African tree, Moringa. Founders Kwami Williams and Emily Cunningham were introduced to what was known as the “miracle tree” during a trip to northern Ghana, in 2011. At the time, Williams was studying Aerospace Engineering at MIT and Cunningham was studying development economics at Harvard University.
During their journey, Williams and Cunningham discovered that the leaves of the Moringa tree have more vitamin A than carrots, more protein than eggs, more calcium than milk, and more iron than spinach. As a result, the leaves have the potential to end malnutrition and provide a stable food source to farmers in the region. And the oil seeds, which are rich in anti-oxidants and the moisturizing agents produce one of nature’s finest cosmetic oils.
Putting their engineering and business acumen to work, Williams went back to Cambridge to devise a proprietary extraction system that could be brought closer to the farmers, adding value and jobs on the ground. Soon, MoringaConnect was born. Today, MoringaConnect works with over 300 smallholder farms throughout the country to provide a stable source of income and nutrition.
Tell us your origin story – what was the spark that took you from concept to startup?
My co-founder Kwami and I traveled with MIT’s D-Lab program to build affordable technologies for farming families in Ghana. There, we learned about the Moringa tree. The seeds, packed with anti-oxidants and unique moisturizing agents produced one of nature’s finest oils for hair and skin care. The leaves, rich in vitamins, protein, calcium, and iron provide food security and nutrition for low income farming families. We were astounded by the potential of agriculture in Africa and excited to shake up the cosmetics space with an alternative all-natural moisturizing and anti-aging solution.We spent the next two years designing, building, and perfecting our oil processing system and creating True Moringa- our line of Moringa oil based hair and skin care products.
Did you use any source of crowdfunding and if so which one and was it successful?
We ran a successful Indiegogo campaign in December of 2013 to get our production off the ground and build our supply base, raising over $25,000. We’ve also crowdfunded two loans from Kiva totaling $15,000. It’s been really incredible to see people from all over the world join together to support the Moringa mission.
How did participating in Mass Innovation Nights help you?
Mass Innovation Nights was a perfect exhibition of the diversity of Boston’s vibrant startup community. It was an amazing platform to spread the word about the launch of our True Moringa hair and skin care line and to collaborate with other innovators.
What are the significant milestones you have achieved or need to achieve in the growth of your company?
We now work with over 700 smallholder farmers throughout Ghana to provide sustainable income, agricultural training, and nutrition. Since the launch of our True Moringa line, we’ve been endorsed by Sports Illustrated model Jessica Perez, named one of the top five anti-aging skincare products by New Hope Media, and spread to specialty stores throughout New England and New York. This year, our focus is growth and expansion- new farmers, new store shelves, and perhaps even some new products on the horizon!
Is this the first company you’ve formed and if so – has the experience been what you anticipated? Please give an example of one major eye opening experience that was unexpected (if you’ve had one!)
One of the biggest takeaways from the experience of starting a company has been the importance of collaboration. We’ve built amazing partnerships with like-minded ethically sourced and produced brands that allow us to elevate one another’s work in organic cultivation, ethical sourcing, and quality natural products. One of our top sellers has been our limited edition ethical beauty boxes. This past holiday season, we collaborated with Shea Radiance (ethically sourced shea butter from West Africa), Earthfrendz (artisan crafted handbags from India), and Le Marais Chocolat (fair trade organic chocolate). This season, we’re thrilled to partner with Organic Bath Co., Taza Chocolate, and Tewa Women’s Group to bring natural product junkies our Valentine’s Day gift box.
This article appeared in the March issue of Banner Biz magazine. Click here to read full issue.