African Origins graduated from Cambridge Social Ventures in March 2021.
African Origins produces organic-certified Kalahari Melon oil in South Africa which it sells wholesale to the cosmetics industry worldwide. The company has also developed a luxury skincare brand, Nêô Sephiri, which features their oil as the hero-ingredient.
The company was originally founded during the aftermath of the worst drought in South Africa for 100 years. During this drought thousands of farmers went bankrupt and many more workers lost their jobs. The Kalahari Melon was the last plant still standing, being indigenous to the region and having evolved in the desert. This prompted the founders to investigate the potential uses of the plant, and they discovered the special properties of the oil from the melon’s seeds, and the benefits it would bring for skincare products.
To date, African Origins’ Kalahari Melon seed oil (trademarked as Mokaté Oil) has been sold to industry leading formulators, distributors and brands in every continent except Antarctica.
Bernard van Vuuren
Originally from the region in South Africa where the melons grow, Bernard moved to the UK as a child before completing a degree and PhD in immunochemistry. After university he started a career in banking, working in London and Switzerland. While Bernard was working full-time, he began investigating the viability of Kalahari Melon oil, with the help of his family in South Africa, and developing a market for the oil in Europe. After three years of working on this project, he quit his banking job to concentrate on African Origins.
Olga van Vuuren
Developing an international outlook from a young age, Olga had lived in four countries before moving to the UK where she studied for degrees in economics and law before completing a masters in real estate finance. Her early career started in investment banking and private equity across geographies before becoming an entrepreneur – founding and co-founding a number of businesses with a strong focus on strategic vision and business development.
Against the environmental backdrop of a changing climate, with less, and more unpredictable rainfall, their mission is to create a market for a product that can be produced by remote, marginalised communities in South Africa. They intend to go further than just the ingredient and to develop cosmetic bases and products that can be produced in South Africa, thereby adding additional value to the communities and wider society in South Africa. In doing so, they bring back livelihoods that were lost to drought, as well as develop new skills and higher paying livelihoods that will acutely stimulate the economies in these communities.