At the beginning of 2018, I had an idea. An idea that I believed, if it worked, would radically change the circumstances of countless people stuck in poverty. As I stood in my Helsinki apartment pondering the future, something began to stir deep inside me.
I imagined my life in 10 years and assumed I hadn’t decided to pursue this idea. All I could imagine was regret that I had played it safe and would never know what could have been if I took the risk.
My decision was made… I had to do this.
While this wouldn’t be my first entrepreneurial venture, it would be the most risky. I wouldn’t have the flexibility, finances, and team I had in previous ventures. Nevertheless, with unwavering support from my wife, we sold everything we owned, taking all our savings to invest as our startup capital. In April 2018 we moved back to my home, South Africa, and the journey of Vollar began.
Vollar is a digital incentive platform focused on developing disadvantaged communities. Our platform gives organisations the tools to introduce incentives into their social development programs. Through our platform organisations can plan, fund and distribute incentives, called vollars, to their beneficiaries. These vollars have real monetary value and can be used to make purchases at SMEs (small and medium enterprises).
A great example of how Vollar is being implemented is by the Balwin Foundation running free training initiatives for disadvantaged individuals. Due to drop off in attendance, they were over-catering and wasting both food and money. They decided to convert the program’s catering budget into vollars, allowing course attendees to earn incentives for goals like class attendance and bringing required documents. The incentives empowered attendees and gave them the freedom to choose their own food options or use it for other essentials, all the while supporting local businesses and eliminating waste in the catering budget. It was a massive success and in the end, contributed to a 50% increase in attendance.
Who would have thought that something as simple as catering could be turned into impact?
In only 18 months, Vollar has made incredible progress; we’ve raised investments, been selected as 1 of 6 companies from Africa to present at Stanford University, and more recently won an innovation award. However, to achieve these successes we’ve had to conquered many mountains. We’ve given up our comfort, friends, and family, to start over in a new country. We’ve run out of money… twice, worked 2 jobs, and even rode bicycles 16km a day through an entire winter so we could invest the money from our car into the business.
Often we get caught up in the successes and forget the long and sometimes lonely journey that is entrepreneurship. It requires all the strength and resilience you can muster, but for those who stick it out, it’s an opportunity to make a real difference in the world.
Guest contributor Kyle Ueckermann is the Founder and CEO of Vollar , a digital currency used for incentivizing and rewarding local community service.