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Mansour Niang MMS ’13 is co-founder of NeoFarm, a biotechnology company that makes insect proteins for animal feed and an organic fertilizer for plant growth.

Tell us about NeoFarm. What’s an aspect of the company you’re particularly proud of?

NeoFarm is a pioneer in the production of insect-based proteins in Senegal. We harness the power of insects to create a much-needed alternative for the animal feed industry. We produce a natural, healthy, and protein-rich insect flour (from the black soldier fly, or BSF) for poultry and fish feed, and an organic fertilizer to help farmers increase yield and revenues. For the last two years we've been focusing on research and development to control the breeding and rearing cycle of the black soldier fly and working to stabilize our end products.

As it is a nascent industry with no structured value chain, I would say the most difficult thing for us has been to create an entire ecosystem along the value chain with local actors; I can give you two concrete examples:

  1. In Senegal, there is little to no waste management. Most of the waste generated are disposed of at uncontrolled landfills with devastating impact on surrounding populations. We partnered with various actors, municipalities, and industrials to create waste management plans, train and follow operational waste sorting, and reduce waste management costs.
  2. Development of scientific and operational competencies in entomology and BSF breeding with partnerships with local universities and research centers, and a direct bridge for recruiting from entomology labs to NeoFarm.

We are proud of the ecosystem we have built around us and are convinced it will help us lead the growth of the insect industry in West Africa.

Mansour Niang, founder of NeoFarm

What led you to found the company?

Africa's population is the fastest growing population in the world, expected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050. However, the current food chain is not adapted to meet this growing demand. There is a real urgency to develop agriculture and the food value chain on the continent to ensure food security in the long term. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated clearly that when you depend on the rest of the world to feed your population, then any type of disruption immediately threatens its food security. My compass is to contribute to designing the food value chain of tomorrow on the continent, for improved food security and a sustainable future.

When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur, and what were the most important traits and skills you felt you needed to start and scale NeoFarm?

I would say that I always knew, because I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so that's the model I grew up into. I always knew that at some point I wanted to do something that would have an impact in my community.

An entrepreneur must have a vision, not necessarily the technical expertise as you can surround yourself with the right people, another important trait of an entrepreneur. Without a vision, it's very difficult.

My background is in finance. I did my undergrad in Switzerland before I joined Duke University for the Master of Management Studies program. My goal always has been to return to West Africa, where I come from, and participate in any way I could to the region’s development. So, everything I’ve done in the past 10 years led me to today. I developed a strong work ethic, work methodology, and resilience through my experience as a strategy consultant in Europe, while my personal and academic experiences provided me with a strong ability to adapt to any environment, key to navigating as an entrepreneur.

You got your Master’s in Management Studies from Duke. How did that program shape you as an entrepreneur?

Fuqua gave me the right mindset. At a top university like Duke, you’re surrounded by overachievers, and this is the best environment to convince yourself that you can do anything, the sky is the limit. This mindset gave me the motivation and confidence to believe I could achieve my goals. The second point I would say is: adaptability. I had classmates from all around the world, from all backgrounds and cultures, which helped me to widen my perspective. The last point from the program that really marked me is the pragmatism, which is quite different in the U.S., as opposed to Africa or Europe. That pragmatism is very important and key to success as an entrepreneur.

What’s a key challenge that you’ve faced with NeoFarm, and how did you address it?

It's incredible how everyone pushes you when you want to be an entrepreneur, and we talk about all this adaptability, pragmatism, and so on. But only a few actually stress the challenges faced daily when you start your own company and especially, the non-negotiable resilience needed to succeed. The insect industry is a nascent industry facing many challenges; it's a lot of learning by doing. It took us quite some time to address some technical challenges and it was quite frustrating and difficult to continue waking up every day with the same motivation and optimism. We learned a lot through this phase, because we understood the importance of continuing to push until you reach your objective. Nothing is easy, and it’s actually better when it’s a bit harder.

How have your Duke experiences and network supported your journey?

My Duke network has definitely played a role in my journey.

I’ve been in contact with Kevin [Hoch, Director of Educational Programs for Duke I&E] since I was at Fuqua. When I mentioned NeoFarm, he was very helpful from day one. I’ve also made good friends during the MMS program—some which are supporting me through NeoFarm’s journey. One of our advisors is an MBA alumni from Fuqua who I met in Durham and who is supporting us on strategic and financing topics.

What’s next for NeoFarm?

Now that we have a stable product, we are raising funds for the industrialization phase. We currently operate a small-scale farm in Dakar, and the objective is to industrialize our process by building a large-scale facility to multiply our production capacity by 100 and start commercialization in Senegal and for exports.