Five Questions with Social Innovator Patrick Pierson-Prah
Patrick Pierson-Prah MBA ’21, a CASE Scholar and member of the Student Founder Program, is on a mission to increase renter power in Africa’s challenging housing market. In 2021, more than 90% of tenants in Ghana and Nigeria are asked to pay 1-3 years of rent in advance before gaining access to their housing—a burdensome upfront cost that results in people accepting sub-standard housing and using income they would otherwise put toward education or other critical needs, as well as contributing to significant social inequity.
After conducting extensive market and user research, Pierson-Prah partnered with fellow MBA students Lilian Onyekachi Izuorah, Sandeep Panda, and Eric Reynolds to launch Renmo, a credit assessment platform that enables tenants in Africa to rent decent homes via monthly payments. Renmo’s mission is to provide people with financial freedom to have better livelihoods.
In addition to winning the 2021 Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) Launch Pad prize, Renmo was a top-12 finalist in the recent Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge. Here, Pierson-Prah shares some of what he’s learned on his entrepreneurial journey.
What factors contributed to your decision to become an entrepreneur?
I grew up in Ghana from a humble background, so I consider myself fortunate and privileged to have attended some of Ghana’s best high schools and colleges. However, I have always questioned myself on whether I am using my privilege for the good of my community. I was looking for ways to give back to my society in a meaningful way. This quest led me to co-found an agribusiness that raised $2.3 million to double the income of over 2,500 smallholder farmers in Ghana before pursuing my MBA. Nothing can explain the joy I had seeing smiles on the faces of these farmers who had almost lost hope in their farming ventures due to climate change and lack of capital. As a result, I became motivated to explore more avenues to put smiles on people’s faces. This desire again led me to pursue entrepreneurship at Duke, starting a venture that can alleviate the pain and suffering, and give financial freedom to millions of people across Africa and beyond.
How has being at Duke impacted your entrepreneurship journey?
I was part of the Duke Student Founder Program in my first year. This program provided me with the needed network to incubate my idea about Renmo. It was simply so refreshing being surrounded by other students with a similar passion for creating solutions to tackle some of the world’s big problems. Having access to the staff, faculty, and alumni community was super helpful in refining my idea. I spent my last semester with my team to work entirely on Renmo as part of the academic work with Prof. Jamie N. Jones. My team also participated and won the Fuqua Fast Pitch competition. In this competition, some of the judges (Duke alumni) would later become advisors and investors in Renmo.
What’s a particular challenge you’ve faced so far with Renmo? How has your team tackled that challenge?
Our biggest challenge was talking with landlords in Ghana and Nigeria. Landlords have a lot of market power since housing demand outstrips the supply, so it was not easy to get interview time with landlords who thought they didn’t need us. As a result, we had to dig deep into our existing contacts to create such connections.
Describe your experience with the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge and what you’ll take away from it.
The first round was about dissecting the problem we are solving. It allowed us to think more deeply about the issue at hand—more about all the stakeholders and how the problem affects their livelihoods. After qualifying for the second round, we focused on how our solution is the best possible means to tackle the problem. Finally, my team spent time measuring the impact our solution has on all the stakeholders. The feedback from the judges also helped shape our solution on how Renmo can achieve its mission to provide financial freedom to people. We learned how to create metrics to measure the impact of Renmo.
What advice or resources would have been most helpful to get at the beginning of your entrepreneurship journey?
I wish I knew more about impact assessment and how to use such metrics. It could be pretty hard to measure the impact of a social venture, but such measurement is key to ensuring that one stays focused on the most important things.