By SUSAN LAHEY
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Non-profit organizations spend more than $30 billion every year in overhead costs, trying to get cash to people around the world, according to Luke Kyohere, president and CEO of Beyonic.
That $30 billion goes to armed guards and armored trucks, currency exchanges and even helicopter drops to rural farmers and all that money could be used to lift 42 million more people out of poverty. The non-profits use cash because it’s the only currency that translates across countries and payer systems.
Ironically, in the countries where this cash goes, more than 80 percent of the rural population uses smart phones to buy goods and services. But the mobile and payment networks are so disjointed, it would very difficult for any organization to use them. That’s where Beyonic comes in. Beyonic is a cloud-based platform that lets payers use mobile networks for payments. Right now, Beyonic is working in Uganda, Kyohere’s native country, and Kenya. But the founders have in mind expanding globally as well as becoming the payer system of choice for governments and other enterprises currently relying on cash.
“In rural areas where people don’t have credit cards, these mobile wallets have become a big part of life,” said Ronald Miller, vice president of marketing and public relations for Beyonic. The phones they’re using are the old Nokia ones that went out of fashion years ago in the U.S. “But the organizations doing work in East Africa are not able to aid beneficiaries on mobile wallets because there are three or four different telephone companies and it’s difficult for an employer or aid organization to integrate with all the different mobile phone companies. So they go to the bank and pull out a bag of cash, bring it back to the office and their employees go on these field trips to take it to the beneficiaries. There’s extra cost and extra work that’s involved, and also extra risk.”
Making a Difference
“What I wanted,” Kyohere said, “was the idea of a payment system that was a branded product. It was beyond integrated circuits, more than just technology. This can actually help people achieve impact.”
The first impact, of course, would be freeing up the money now used in overhead to actually provide services, microloans and other benefits to more than 40 million people—roughly the entire population of Sudan–who are not now receiving that help. But another benefit is that receiving money via smartphones would give people an opportunity to keep better track of their money and help them achieve more financial understanding and independence.
“I think this is a no-brainer for African non-profits because it will greatly ease the operations of cash disbursal and, save money, and greatly cut down on potential for fraud, a huge issue with petty cash disbursement,” said Boris Bulayev executive director of Educate! an organization that trains leaders and entrepreneurs in Africa. Beyonic is working on cash distribution systems for the organization which is scaling from 54 schools to 200. “The biggest challenge to scaling in a place like Uganda is the distribution challenges. Beyonic provides a one-stop solution to solving the problem for distribution of cash as we scale.”Building Beyonic
Kyohere has been refining the platform during the past six years. He got his degree in electrical engineering from Makerere University in Uganda and worked for several years in software and Internet companies in New York and Uganda before becoming senior software developer for a Danish company that handled online and microcredit services. His most recent jobs were in Uganda, working for mobile online financial companies. That’s where he got the idea for Beyonic.
He met his cofounders, vice president of operations Dan Kleinbaum and Miller at the McCombs School of Business where he got his Master’s in Technology Commercialization. The company now operates out of Austin Technology Incubator and has been racking up awards:
- They finished 2nd in the Global Venture Labs competition.
- First in the SXSW Longhorn Startup Showcase Pitch contest.
- First in the IBM Global Entrepreneur Pitch Competition.
“I think Luke is brilliant and has built a really relevant product in a market he really understands,” said Bulayev. “He has also found two partners who complement him perfectly. I joked after we first met how stereotypically Luke, Ronald and Dan played in their roles. I think teams like that are rare to put together, especially in East Africa, where there is a clear talent shortage. I feel like you can feel when a startup has the package – innovative product with massive scale potential and a well-rounded team to execute it – and I truly believe Beyonic has it all. ”
Dan Lowden, mentor, serial entrepreneur and currently vice president of business development at startup BRiGGO, said his main suggestions to the team were tips to tell their story more clearly, looking from the perspective of an investor.
“They’re so close to it they think the story resonates with everyone, but potential investors and partners may not get it,” Lowden said. Otherwise, the team has done a lot of due diligence, including having good discussions with potential partners to understand what has to be done to solve the problem. They’ve started good pilot programs; and they’re listening.
“They’re seizing on an opportunity to really help people, which I love,” Lowden said. “They’re trying to reduce the burden and improve efficiency and they do it incredibly well and elegantly.”
Beyonic allows for scheduled and repeat payments, authorization and access controls, multiple signoffs, reporting and analytics and other security and convenience features. At present the company is just focused on getting investment and expanding into countries like India and Pakistan. But they know that there are companies in the same space, like Visa, who might be acquirers down the road.
Bulayev acknowledges that the challenge ahead is to get non-profit organizations to migrate their systems as well as dealing with the charges mobile payments providers take for transactions. But, he said, the Beyonic system “is really easy to test…I really think they just need to execute.”