For Genera Moore, starting a business wasn’t just about making money. She wanted to make a difference.
Specifically, she wanted to improve living conditions in Africa. Moore, 38, was living in Dubai when she realized she could improve Africans’ lives through the auto parts industry, but she returned to her hometown of St. Louis to launch her company.
That was four years ago. Her company, Motorparts Nation, now has four employees in Ghana, and Moore spoke to me last week from Tanzania, where she hopes to expand soon. A partnership with Ecobank, which is based in Togo and operates in 36 African nations, should lead to further expansion.
Moore came back to St. Louis for family reasons, but it proved to be a good business move too. St. Louis has no special ties to Africa or the automotive industry, but it has a strong support system for startups.
Moore got help from ITEN, a group for technology entrepreneurs, Washington University’s Skandalaris Center, the Missouri Department of Economic Development and other organizations. She made her first trip to Africa with the National Black MBA Association, which has a strong St. Louis chapter.
“St. Louis is definitely a good base,” Moore said. “I’ve received a lot of help there.”
Jim Roche, founder of automotive software company WarrCloud, is one of Moore’s mentors at ITEN. He liked Moore’s idea from the start, but was even more impressed by her drive.
“Everybody has ideas, but the combination of courage and energy and risk taking to move it forward, that’s what sets you apart,” Roche said. “She has that courage and the vision comes with it.”
Moore’s journey hasn’t been without challenges. Her first clients were in Nigeria, where political instability and currency fluctuations made it difficult to operate. “In my few months there, even Nigerians were telling me to go do business in Ghana,” she said.
She did, and her business model is designed to save lives. Africa has the world’s highest rate of road fatalities, and its auto-repair industry is part of the problem. Some companies import substandard parts, and most mechanics lack formal training.
“We don’t just focus on selling parts and motor oil, we focus on providing technical training to the mechanics,” Moore explained. “The more training we provide, the more advanced they’ll get and the safer people will be on the road.”
Motorparts Nation also provides access to cloud-based diagnostic software, which is essential for working on modern vehicles. The partnership with Ecobank will give the mechanics, many of whom run all-cash businesses, access to loans and other financial tools.
Jane Vancil, another ITEN mentor, compares Moore’s firm to such socially conscious enterprises as Toms Shoes, which donates a pair of footwear to needy children for every pair it sells at retail.
“She’s doing something that’s necessary and positive and good for the future,” said Vancil, chief executive of software firm IncentiLock. “It could pull people, the mechanics, out of poverty and into the middle class.”
Along with the social mission, Roche sees plenty of business upside. “The need for qualified technicians and parts is going to grow and the need to educate those technicians is going to grow,” he said. “There’s significant opportunity and potential.”
On top of whatever good she can do in the auto parts industry, Moore hopes to motivate other African Americans to tackle Africa’s problems. “I hope this is going to inspire a lot of people from the diaspora,” she said.