The Oakland-based startup Kuli Kuli Foods is one of three finalists in a voting campaign to win $25,000 in seed capital from the Ledbury Launch Fund. Kuli Kuli came to be when founder Lisa Curtis encountered moringa, a tree leaf abundant in Niger, discovered that it was a superfood with twice the nutritional value of kale, and committed to finding a way for Nigerian women to financially capitalize on the commodity and Nigerian people to better capitalize on the nutrients. Today, Curtis’ company—mostly comprised of Nigerien women—sell moringa to U.S. consumers in the form of a nutrition bar. A chunk of that money is reinvested in the work of making it easier for Nigeriens to take advantage of the plant as a source of nutrition.
“Fundraising has been a challenge especially because our team is really young so our net worth is not much,” says Curtis. The $370,000 they’ve raised so far mostly came from the two crowd funding campaigns they ran with Indiegogo and then AgFunder. Kuli Kuli and the other two finalists were selected from 150 other applicants. You can vote for them here, note that voting ends on the 24th!
Curtis, who’s done time in the Peace Corps as well as in the White House, says “in many cases, for-profit entrepreneurship is a more sustainable and effective way to empower people than nonprofit aid.” Kuli Kuli is a B-corporation in the process of earning its fair trade certification.
Curtis had her first taste of moringa while living in Niger and working in the Peace Corps. “I was feeling pretty malnourished myself,” she says, “because there was virtually no produce to eat.” When the moringa restored her energy and vitality she couldn’t believe the superfood had evaded the awareness it deserved. She says the most common way of preparing the leaves in Niger is to boil them, which leeches most of the nutrients. Grinding the leaves into powder to mix into curry is a better way to retain the nutrients; encouraging Nigeriens to do so is a component of the nonprofit work Kuli Kuli does. “This is a country where eighty percent of the people live below the poverty line,” says Curtis, but one thing they have in abundance is this rampant-growing superfood.
Kuli Kuli bars are sold at Whole Foods and various other chains in the Bay Area; the Ledbury grant would be used to launch their molinga powder product. This would allow them to scale up their nonprofit programming and financially empower more women in Niger. It’s also important for Kuli Kuli Foods to stake out every corner of the market before others—potentially others with less concern for the triple bottom line—begin to market the plant.