Tech ambition: OneAgrix has dreams of being the first halal unicorn

By Richard Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

OneAgrix harbours ambitions of being the halal-tech world’s first unicorn ©Getty Images
OneAgrix harbours ambitions of being the halal-tech world’s first unicorn ©Getty Images

Related tags: Halal, Halal food, Traceability, Supply chain

A Singapore agri-food marketplace harbours ambitions of being the halal-tech world’s first unicorn, even though it started off modestly and remains largely bootstrapped.

Diana Sabrain said she dared to hope that a billion-dollar valuation would become a reality for OneAgrix, the start-up she began to develop 2015, making it an Islamic Alibaba.

I know it’s ambitious, but there’s a huge opportunity for halal​,” she said.

OneAgrix is a B2B platform with supply chain traceability that connects logistics and payment to serialisation and anti-counterfeiting for halal food and ingredients.

It may just look like a marketplace, but at the back-end, that’s where the secret sauce is. We store all the certification, like halal certificates and ISO. In the future we want to integrate Global Gap certificates, and we save all that data on blockchain​,” said Diana, who had been working in the commodities sector before leaving to develop the OneAgrix platform.

When you purchase online, how do you know that you are getting your brand’s real products? With OneAgrix, you can check their certificate, verify it on blockchain and you can be sure that that certificate is real at a data provenance level​.”

Aside from a large number of private trading companies active on the platform, Nestlé Malaysia is one of the big names onboard that uses it to sell pallets of goods such as Milo, powdered milk and baby food.

One of the main motivations for the multinational to use OneAgrix is the platform’s ability to assure customers of the veracity of its products in a regional market that delights in counterfeiting Nestlé’s brand.

Diana, who has taken a long-term view on fundraising and spent the first years developing OneAgrix’s operations on a shoestring, is now looking to finalise new investment to expand the platform further.

We were bootstrapped until angel investors came along in 2019. These were executives who were at P&G, Rio Tinto and IBM. Right now we are looking to raise our series A​,” she said.

We have been courting investors since our seed round. We knew it was very early, but we knew we had to start then. We have already talked to Saudi Aramco’s entrepreneurship arm, MEVP; we also spoke to Sequoia and a lot of other VCs, so we aren’t throwing it up in the air and seeing what takes seed​.

Series A is very important for us because we’ve already been through this process of building and now we want to scale​,” she added.

In addition to the platform technology and bringing onboard merchants, the start-up has done deals with Escrow.com, which allowed it to provide a payment gateway, and most recently, it has embarked on a major public-private partnership in Nigeria to attract food traders there to do more online business.

Much work is needed to improve the reputation of the country’s beleaguered food industry, for which food safety and integrity are common issues cause barriers for international trade.

Since halal certification is an internationally respected means to assure the provenance of a product, the pilot “Nigeria Feeds the World Initiative​”, which has the backing of President Muhammadu Buhari, will call on OneAgrix’s platform to display a line’s halal credentials right next to an order button.

When you’re talking about the agri-food sector, you want to be able to communicate that you conform to global standards. I could order a batch of meat and see each step of the supply chain going forward​,” said Diana.

Having been self-funded for so long before the arrival of angel investment, OneAgrix was built with strong foundations. If things go to plan, the start-up will be gearing up for an IPO within the decade—or perhaps even a prominent buy-out.

I was told by a prominent VC that we could one day be a target for Alibaba. As a founder, when you build something, you don’t know where it might go, so it’s nice to get that validation​,” said Diana.

But if anybody buys us out will have to promise and maintain that they will continue to protect the integrity of halal. That’s important for us because it’s been our mission right from the start​.”

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