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Michael "Luni" Libes, Fledge incubator founder
Michael “Luni” Libes, Fledge accelerator founder, at Demo Day in Seattle this week.

Ravaged villages, fires and emaciated people filled the screen at Fledge’s seventh annual Demo Day this week. These horrific images illustrated Fledge’s mission to help startups that “make not just a measurable impact in the world, but a noticeable improvement in the lives of everyone on the planet.”

Fledge is a Seattle startup accelerator helping fund and guide for-profit companies. The seven organizations that were accepted into this round of the Fledge fold each received $20,000 in investment financing then embarked on an intense 10-week guidance program that included access to 300 mentors in the Fledge network.

“We’re in a world where 2 billion people have been left behind,” said Fledge founder Michael “Luni” Libes in his introduction to Demo Day, which showcased real life strife and the startups’ solutions to help those in need. To personalize their missions, many of the evening’s presenters told stories and showed pictures of extreme poverty, mostly in Africa, where their companies have been working to help.

“These are all companies that are making the world a better place,” Libes said. “That’s what’s ‘Fledglings’ do.”

Ziweto Enterprise

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Byton Simwela, Ziweto Enterprise

Byton Simwela, co-founder and COO of Ziweto Enterprise, opened his presentation with visuals of a female farmer in rural Malawi whose chickens all died because she did not have access to vaccinations.

“This story is common in Malawi. Two million farmers have barely enough food to feed their families,” he said.

Ziweto Enterprise’s solution is to provide a network of agro/vet shops that offers veterinarian services and medicine – including livestock vaccinations – to livestock farmers.

With three operating agro/vet shops, Ziweto serviced 2,000 farmers in its first five months, according to Simwela. Its ultimate goal is to open 20-plus shops to help more than 300,000 farmers.

Brent Oils

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Geoffrey Ssekatawa, Brent Oils

After noting the environmental damage in Uganda being caused by used lube oil dumping, Brent Oils CEO Geoffrey Ssekatawa used his background as a chemist to create a way to recycle used oil into new base oil by blending it with additives.

Brent Oils, based in Uganda, currently recycles 1,300 gallons per month and hopes to get to 30,000 gallons per month with additional funding.

Vigorous Materials

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Shawn Agosta, Vigorous Materials

Vigorous Materials – the only Seattle-area Fledge startup in this cohort – is located on Bainbridge Island where artist Shawn Agosta creates intricate sculptures, like lions and angels. Agosta found a “green replacement” for gypsum drywall that he says is “stronger, lighter and greener” as well as “fire, water, mold and insect resistant.”

“We use recycled paper, some glue…and some secret sauce,” he said.


Many of the Fledge presentations – including the intro – mentioned the poor livelihoods of farmers and the need for more funding and resources. The Philippines-based company Cropital wants to directly empower farmers through a crowdfunding platform.

Would-be investors can choose from a sample of farms, and their funds will provide the farmers with much-needed resources. Funds and resources will then be utilized to improve production. After their harvest, capital raised from the farmers’ sales will return to the investor with a shared profit.


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EcoBuild CEO Mwaya Bolokonya

Building a village takes one brick at a time, and EcoBuild is setting out to build a better brick for Malawi homes. CEO Mwaya Bolokonya says the way they do this is through kilns that “use one-tenth of the energy of traditional kilns.”

EcoBuild claims their products lower construction costs while providing quality construction and are eco-friendly with lower carbon and particle emissions than standard Malawi products.

African Chicken

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African Chicken CEO John Kayira

African Chicken’s slogan is “We fight unemployment, poverty, (and) hunger with chicken.” And their business model does actually hinge on chicken.

The company, based in Tanzania, partners with rural female farmers and trains them to raise chicken. It then gives them 100 chickens with feed, and provides veterinarian services. After four months, African Chicken buys back 90 percent of the chickens and leaves the rest for the farmer’s family. Through this model, they plan to increase rural household incomes from less than $1 a day to $2 per day by 2020.

“Our women farmers are happy and want more. Our customers are happy and want more,” said CEO John Kayira. “We at African Chicken are happy that they are happy and want more.”


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Geossy CEO Emanu Georwell

“When I was a little child, my grandfather taught me how to fish,” said CEO Emanu Georwell, during Geossy’s presentation. “In Uganda, they believe that if you eat fish, a child’s brain will grow.”

But Georwell said that fish are disappearing from Lake Victoria, the largest lake on the continent – possibly from overfishing and global warming – and now one in three children suffer from protein malnutrition.

“The communities are left with no option but starvation and poverty,” he said.

Geossy has a different solution: fish farming. Over the last three years, they constructed aquaculture, agriculture and apiary farms and trained 1,000 people to farm fish, Georwell said, all in an effort to reduce hunger and malnutrition in Uganda.

Read more about the companies in the latest Fledge cohort on its website.

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