By definition, entrepreneurs build businesses, hire staff, develop corporate and financial structures and chase profitable growth. But in the best of us there is often a desire to share the rewards of our ideas, research, innovation and exploration, with our communities first and then further afield. We seek opportunities to make a difference, to empower and to enrich, particularly in times of strife. With Covid-19 seeing communities and businesses struggle through lockdowns and enforced closures, there has never been a better time for business leaders to come together to help support communities and reach out to small businesses and help them recover.
The simple act of shopping for food essentials has been disrupted forever by the pandemic. Enforced global lockdowns are headline news but the need to feed your family is personal. In many countries supermarkets and restaurants delivering food has been part of the retail landscape for years, but not in South East Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, where daily grocery shopping from independent stores and markets is commonplace, as is eating in local restaurants or collecting take out. Covid-19 has had a detrimental effect on many food vendors’ livelihoods, especially those in more remote cities and rural communities, where establishing a distribution network is not cost effective.
To this backdrop, Foodie was born. As an innovator, I strive to see the gap, the place where technology can be developed to fill a need. By ordering groceries online from local businesses and favourite meals from restaurants, in an easy, seamless way, some sense of normalcy and control can be returned to the individual, while also throwing small vendors a lifeline. Mitra used modern technologies like Flutter and Java Spring Boot to rapidly develop an app to bridge the gap between vendors and consumers. Vendors simply register their business and consumers download the app for seamless access to groceries stores and local restaurants. Goods are delivered to the door and payment made in the app or cash on delivery.
Initially we approached the banks to allow for seamless funding of purchases, but their inherent bureaucracy forced us to be more creative. So, we approached YouCAB, one of the largest taxi and vehicle hire services in Sri Lanka. Their passenger services had dried up during lockdown and they were looking for new revenue streams. We also approached Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara for investment capital. They have long invested in food-based enterprises and saw the project as an opportunity to help small vendors. They joined us as equity partners.
We worked with YouCAB to enhance their systems to integrate with, and support the new app, initially in Kandy and surrounds. Foodie is available free for consumers from the Appstore, and we took the decision not to make any charge to the small businesses and restaurants that register. This way we are helping to restore their link with existing customers and bring in new business, whilst delivering enhanced, and importantly safe, retail choices throughout Sri Lanka at zero cost. We chose to make Foodie a non-profit app in Sri Lanka from a strong sense of social responsibility, that desire to give something back that launched the project. Foodie has worked so well, we are keen to partner with innovators globally, starting with Indonesia, Bangladesh and South Africa.
Entrepreneurs gain so much by bringing their expertise to joint ventures, building strong working relationships and mutual respect with business leaders, whilst at the same time driving digital enablement. I believe collaborative empowerment and innovation are the keys to unlocking the challenges of a post Covid-19 world.
Thank you & stay safe.
Dr Ashok Suppiah
Founder & CEO Mitra Group