As a little girl growing up in Southern Texas, Miishe Addy often went grocery shopping with her mom and was often fascinated by the dress code of the female store attendants. “The women in Texas at the time in the 1980s were usually beautifully dressed; this was my first exposure to femininity. I wanted to wear my nails long and write with pens. I associated full womanhood with doing that particular job because of my exposure,” Addy, now the CEO of Jetstream, told Ventures Africa.
However, as she came of age, she trod a different path. Addy earned an honours BA in Philosophy from Harvard College, and at a time when many of her peers were launching or joining startups, Addy proceeded to grad school at Stanford Law School. She had 12 years of experience in strategy, analysis, and legal transactions, before transitioning to entrepreneurship and never left.
People have always had an impact on Addy’s career path. She has always worked with people she admired since she was an undergraduate. “There was a woman who was like a mentor to me who connected me with other people that I admired. I wanted to know how to do the things she was doing. So it was just admiration of certain people I look up to and always being up for the challenge,” she said.
Addy has varied interests. If she were not in the logistics and supply industry, she would have been in manufacturing or health care. Before launching Jetstream, she had a small company that made, processed and sold coconut products and yoghurts. “Manufacturing interests me. Eldercare also interests me, and I have some ideas about that. My interest is sparked by having problems and realizing there might be a way to use technology to solve them.
In 2017, Addy moved to Ghana for a fellowship with an incubator called Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST). There, she mentored aspiring software entrepreneurs and developed the market insights behind Jetstream. These budding entrepreneurs spent a year learning front-end programming, business fundamentals, financial modelling and other skills. Addy taught modules around business models and validated hypotheses about projected happenings in the market. It was during her time there she met her co-founder for Jetstream.
She has always known the supply chain was an important sector for the continent but did not necessarily know she would launch a startup or continue her entrepreneurship journey in the supply chain. Things changed when she met Solomon Torgbor, her co-founder. At the time, Torgbor had worked in cross-border shipping for eight years with shipping giant Maersk. He educated her on the existing shortcomings in the shipping space. Further research revealed how difficult and costly it was to import and export goods from West Africa. “It is most expensive for people to cargo across Africa than it is to do anywhere else in the world,” she said. In March 2019, the duo started end-to-end shipping in Ghana and the United States.
Jetstream’s shipping services are one-of-a-kind. They provide a service called Groupage, which is container consolidation and is common in freight forwarding and tracking, but few people are aware of it. That was one of the inefficiencies observed by Addy in the African market. “The biggest thing is that we are specialists in cross-border trade. Anything that crosses one country’s border into another requires custom clearance because their legal regime and the tax regime differ. Governments love to make money out of the entry of goods into their jurisdiction, and so from the very beginning, Jetstream has prioritized the ability to clear customs efficiently. That puts us in a different category from supply chain companies focused on inventory management, last-mile delivery, or ground transport. The supply chain is very complex, and we have different steps,” Addy explained.
The supply chain and logistics space has always been a male-dominated industry, Addy pays no mind to that fact. “From the start of my career, I have always worked in fields that I find interesting, and I have had challenges, but I don’t view them from a gender perspective,” she said. However, she sees an enormous opportunity for women in the supply chain field. Many intrinsic behaviours inherent in women are cardinal in the supply chain industry. Relationship skills are one such behaviour. Still, it is not much of a gender-specific thing to her. “Logistics is a relationship business; you cannot move cargo from Lagos into Amsterdam or from Johannesburg into Cairo without partnering with a minimum of nine different logistics companies. Relationships emerge with those logistics companies or define how faster cargo moves. There are benefits to being in great relationships with these providers on the ground. I find that both men and women who are good at working with other people tend to excel in this field,” she said.
Since its inception, Addy has made a significant impact with Jetstream, the most powerful being accelerating people’s businesses. Customers who want to export or import but cannot do so due to financial constraints are provided capital through Jetstream’s trade financing program, allowing the beneficiaries to meet the needs of their customers.
Addy is focusing her expansion efforts on African gateway markets. Eleven African countries account for roughly 78 percent of containerized trade purchases. Many countries in Africa are landlocked and do not have access to seaports or efficient ones. “We aspire to build a presence in each of these markets – Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, etc. We want to be the preferred provider of technological supply chain services at each of those gateway markets,” she explained.
Many women, according to Addy, are talented and could be doing more in leadership. But they can’t, because they do not get enough support from their partners and friends. She encourages women to be firm in their ideas and beliefs, especially in entrepreneurship, where they have a wonderful opportunity to prove themselves in the real world. In her experience, there are fewer gatekeepers in entrepreneurship than anywhere else. “If you have an idea or a startup you want to fund, and you have been rejected, there is always another investor around the corner willing to fund. For whatever is setting you apart from the norm or setting you apart from the ideal standard, entrepreneurship I think is just a wonderful way to make your luck and define a path for yourself that is not reliant on gatekeepers,” Addy said.