Being a Tony Elumelu Foundation grant is something a lot of entrepreneurs in Africa dream of, a dream that quickly became reality for David Chimzizi. David, a social entrepreneur for a start-up known as Auroral Borealis was able to secure a win in the Tony Elumelu Foundation cohort 2021, getting funding of $5,000 to his business. I wanted to put a spotlight on David Chimzizi and his journey in becoming a beneficiary of the grant.
Interview with David Chimzizi
A brief introduction of yourself, please…
David Chimzizi is a tech enthusiast with a passion to improve society through code. When not immersed in the world of code, I enjoy reading books or articles on tech and business. My goal is to see the livelihood of people in my community and beyond become more efficient through technology.
Auroral Borealis is an interesting name, since it means northern lights. What motivated you to go for this name?
I recall it was in September 2018, I was back in university and was having an introspection about my life. I had dedicated the time to looking at my personal goals and coming up with new ones, especially when it came to business. After some time, I was satisfied with the ideas I had come up with, but the one thing that was missing was the name. This sent me into another round of introspection, starting from my childhood.
I remembered how I used to love watching cartoons or geographical documentaries that talked about the solar system and the northern lights. I realised that northern lights have always been my inspiration. Hence, the Aurora part of the name. However, in 2019 when I was doing personal gigs, I realised I would invoice customers under the name Auroral instead of Aurora,
A quick search on the internet showed that there are many companies with the name Auroral, which made me shift to Auroral Borealis. Although the name sounds a bit of a mouthful, it was still simple and unique.
What does Auroral Borealis aim to solve as a social enterprise?
Auroral Borealis was founded to solve a simple problem which is connectivity between small-scale businesses and their customers. All this is done through a web platform, WhatsApp, or USSD code.
To give more context, when I was formulating business ideas, I happened to have had a dead light bulb that needed replacing. My journey to ESCOM offices was not futile as I was referred to a dealer in town. I had to make an unplanned trip to town just to find that the dealer had also run out of stock. This meant another referral to a different shop. That was where I was able to buy one.
That gave me the idea that a platform was needed where a customer would order anything they wanted and the right supplier would be matched to them. However, we knew that internet affordability gives a restriction to businesses, hence the idea to also bring in USSD shortcodes to cater to everyone that has a phone.
Our aim does not stop there, we also want to make sure that everyone in the supply chain is linked to the customer. Therefore, a customer who orders products from Mzuzu needs not to worry about the courier service that will deliver to her, it will all be taken care of from the backend.
How did you raise capital for the start-up to get in motion?
Since the beginning of the start-up, I mostly relied on freelance work to raise funds for the enterprise. This was tough, but allowed that some systems of the start-up are set as we waited for it to be registered. Regardless, having a business that relies on freelance gigs and my job proved to be tough as the funds were very limited. This did not change even after registration in 2020, however, winning the Tony Elumelu Foundation grant has brought a boost making it easier for us to work faster on the service we aim to roll out.
Speaking of the Tony Elumelu Foundation grant, how were you able to secure a spot from the 400,000 applicants?
Applying for the Tony Elumelu Foundation was never the initial plan, we initially created a pitch for National Economic Empowerment Fund (NEEF). Unfortunately, we were denied support from the fund because they had never funded an idea before, they only accepted services that were already on the market. At this time, we were still in the idealization stage. This was blowback and brought frustration, and often, I thought of letting go of the whole idea.
One day, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I stumbled upon the TEF advertisement. A quick talk with my colleagues showed that we were all not optimistic about it. Days later, I saw the advertisement again and this time I decided to apply. There were just 24 hours remaining, so I quickly gathered all the materials that were required.
My expectations never fell on the fact that we would be accepted, I was very pessimistic. Imagine my shock when I saw a congratulatory message about being accepted into the program. All this took place in March.
From April, I attended sessions of studying, taking quizzes, and seminars. All this was a learning moment on how to handle businesses and be able to network. After six weeks, it was time to select the top performers and luckily I made it through.
This meant being moved to the next stage of crafting a business plan. Initially, I had never written a plan before and so it was a scary process. But I should recommend TEF for making sure we had mentors to help us navigate through the process. The happiness that filled me when I was done writing the plan is surreal, I did not care if I was going to make it to the next stage, I felt like I had learned and achieved.
Luckily enough, I made it to the next stage. The last stage was creating a 4-minute pitch video, which is a nightmare for someone like me who has never been in front of the camera and tends to shy away from it. 4 hours and 100 takes later, we were satisfied with the video we had created. At that point, we were so sure that we were going to win, regardless of the shadow of a doubt that was roaming around, as a team, we still felt that we would come out on top.
To make it worse, the date of revealing the 2021 beneficiaries kept changing. From September, all the way to November. On the 12th of November, that’s when the Youtube Live happened and the announcing of winners took place. As the Live was happening, they showed the list of countries that had gone through and a swift look at the countries under Southern Africa indicated that there was none from Malawi. I felt my stomach sink to the ground.
For some reason, I checked my email and found a congratulatory message which had me confused. I went back to the Live just to find that Malawi had been placed under Eastern Africa. It was at this time that I started dancing around, rejoicing, and quickly sharing with the team.
What was the greatest lesson you learned during the whole process?
The best lesson of the whole process was just pushing through, regardless of the doubts we had in ourselves. You never lose anything by trying, in this case, we won, although we were pessimistic.
What next for Auroral Borealis now that you have $5,000 in the bank?
Our next step is to get our service on the Malawian market as soon as March 2022. With the seed capital we secured from the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we have been able to grow the team in order to make sure that we are able to work faster and more efficiently.
QUOTE: You never lose anything by trying, being optimistic, and believing in what you have to offer. Then leave everything for the universe to work through.