Entrepreneur in Rhode Island brings a taste of Senegal to New England and empowers women back home
Kassumay LLC is a company in Rhode Island that produces and sells nutritional fruit spreads made with hibiscus flowers grown in Senegal, West Africa. Agriculture is an important industry in Senegal where transforming produce is essential for storage and preservation. By creating spreads, jams, juices, and teas, families can make foods last. Founder and owner Bacary Diatta brought this tradition to market when he launched Kassumay and introduced delicious, nutritious hibiscus fruit spreads to New England. His products are sourced from the Casamance, the region in southern Senegal he calls home. Through Kassumay, Mr. Diatta hopes to empower women in these southern villages of Senegal by providing local employment and business opportunities as well as giving back part of his profits to help create resources such as schools, child care centers, hospitals and more.
How it got started: Agriculture is the most important industry in southern Senegal and most people work on farms that grow fruits and vegetables. However, there is not a lot of storage or refrigeration, so families make spreads that preserve the fruit even after the season has passed. Mr Diatta remembers how he got his business idea, “In 2005, I began working with nonprofit organizations in my country. I learned that these spreads and jams could be not just for eating but for selling in markets, and thereby create a business.” By working with the nonprofits Mr. Diatta learned that by training women to manufacture agricultural products he could create jobs and help the communities of the Casamance where he grew up. When Mr. Diatta came to the US in 2018, he knew he wanted to start a business but it wasn’t clear what to do or how to do it. He had previously had a business producing and selling cashews in Senegal, but this was very different. It was his first time away from Senegal, and while he was already fluent in three other languages, he spoke limited English at the time. He searched the internet and found MOBI and discovered that it was free. Taking the MOBI course was the first step in starting his business. Eventually, he then found a mentor through a local venture capital firm in Rhode Island. His mentor created a mentoring team that met every month. During that time Mr. Diatta found organizations in his community that offered workshops and classes on how to produce and sell food products. These classes were very helpful because there are special requirements to sell food in the US, including obtaining approval from the FDA.
How MOBI helped: Before starting his business Mr. Diatta wanted to understand the basics of starting a business in the US. “MOBI helped me put my idea on paper, helped me define what my idea was and what I wanted to do,” Mr. Diatta says of his MOBI experience. “By getting this basic business education for myself, I could put my idea on paper in a way that other people could understand. MOBI also helped me identify what I needed to have in place before I could seek support from others.” He says the Certificate of Completion he received from MOBI also helped show his commitment to others. When he sent an email to anyone, or provided any documents regarding his business, he always included his MOBI Certificate. With the Certificate he felt he was showing people he had the skills to start a business, even if he couldn’t speak English very well. When he approached a local organization to apply for a loan, he was asked to provide his business plan and he provided his MOBI Certificate as well. He worked closely with the organization to review and update his business plan and create other financial documents to plan his business. Mr. Diatta was thrilled when he was later awarded the loan.
What’s next? Mr. Diatta hopes to continue to grow his business. The Kassumay spreads are available on Amazon and in local retail shops, and according to Mr. Diatta, “People love them!” He is hoping to expand throughout New England and become a national company. Kassumay currently has eight products and is creating special offers such as volume discounts and gift baskets. By the end of spring Kassumay plans to process and sell juice as well. In Senegal it’s even more popular to drink hibiscus-based beverages than to eat spreads. Mr. Diatta is excited to introduce these new products.
Anything else? In the Casamance, as in many parts of Senegal, women are a strong presence in the culture. Women work on the farms and in their homes, yet there are few resources to support them. Through Kassumay Mr. Diatta aims to empower the women of the Casamance by employing them to source and produce his products, and he enables them to create business opportunities of their own with produce from his farm. Mr. Diatta is also giving ten percent of Kassumay’s profits to support development of a school, child care resources, and a hospital/maternity for the southern villages of Senegal. As Kassumay grows Mr. Diatta plans to continue his work empowering and honoring the women of the Casamance.
To learn more about Kassumay LLC and its products, please visit https://kassumayllc.com/.