Peacefully indomitable may sound like an oxymoron, but that is exactly how I would describe Aaron & Abigail Sebesta’s calm but determined attitude and presence. Immediately intrigued by their life stories they spoke about during our house hunting together, I wasn’t surprised when less than a year later they took a huge step in pursuing their dream of moving to South America to help farmers finance their operations. Now in Cusco, Peru, their business–Axios Impact Investments–is embarking on a true social enterprise mission to solve one of the world’s biggest problems.
In your mission statement, you say: “Axios Impact Investments offers Point-of-Sale Financing solutions to companies selling income-producing agricultural technologies…” Can you explain that in layman’s terms? What is point-of-sale financing, and how does it work, for example?
It certainly is a bit of a mouthful – Let me break it down a little more. Point-of-Sale financing is the idea that a store offers financing for their products – the customer doesn’t have to go to a bank to get a loan to buy something, the store offers financing options right there at the register (like a branded credit card or payment plan). Even though that still sounds confusing, it’s something we are very, very familiar with here in the US. You can go to our local Home Depot (or most any store these days) and get financing to be able to purchase most large products on the spot.
Our business brings this model to farmers in the developing world. Especially in rural areas, it is extremely difficult for a farmer to not only get to a bank, but the loan requirements rarely match up to their needs (for example – banks typically require weekly/monthly payments, but a farmer only gets paid once or twice a year when they harvest their crop). Our business forms partnerships with agricultural companies (who sell drip irrigation, water pumps, greenhouses, etc.) to develop customized financing options that work for farmers.
What inspired you to start Axios Impact Investments?
We are extremely passionate about the idea that a business can both make profit and do well in the world – an idea officially called “social enterprise.” Aaron, our CEO (and my husband) and our 3rd partner, Eric, both obtained an MBA from CSU specializing in social enterprise. We are huge advocates that all businesses can (and should!) be social enterprises.
We chose this specific social enterprise (financing for rural farmers) because we dream big…and like a challenge. Around the world, rural farmers represent the poorest of the poor. We are called to help “the least of these” and decided to find a way to improve the livelihood of rural farmers without just providing donations. With a little help from our model, farmers pull themselves out of poverty. The impact can be incredibly dramatic – Many of the products we provide financing for can double a farmer’s income in less than a year!
Our team has a lot of experience in this space and we’re excited to leverage it to tackle this challenge. Aaron has worked to create and implement financing software and programs in the US for the past 12+ years. Eric has a background in fundraising for International Development and has started and worked for numerous non-profit organizations. I, Abigail, have a diverse background as a teacher and in developing efficient systems/processes for organizations, and will lead the training efforts to bring new companies onboard to our model.
In Bold by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler, they say “… the world’s biggest problems are the world’s biggest business opportunities,” and that entrepreneurs today have “access to the technology, minds, and capital required to take on any challenge.” They speak at length of exponential technologies, crowd sourcing, and crowd funding. How do you think today’s business environment will help you obtain your goals with Axios?
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I love that quote – Perfectly sums up our belief about business! Businesses, at their core, are created to solve problems. It may be a small problem, like “I need frozen yogurt” (which I do need, for the record…). Or, it can be a big problem like what we’re trying to tackle with farmers in the developing world. No matter what, the bigger the problem, the bigger the need for a business to solve it.
Peter and Steven are exactly right that the business environment today is changing. In addition to a wealth of technologies (communication and mobile payments for example), we’ve seen a significant shift in the mindset and approach individuals here in the states are taking towards their investments. Investors, especially younger investors, are realizing that every single dollar invested has a real tangible impact on the world, but not all of it is positive for causes they care about (the environment, poverty alleviation, etc.). They’re starting to invest with positive goals in mind. It’s this shift in today’s business environment we are most excited about, as we look to expose everyone back home to the opportunity to support the development and prosperity of their brothers and sisters around the world.