Malik Talib was looking for a new idea. The Vancouver tax lawyer-turned-entrepreneur had made money in technology, publishing and real estate. But in 2007, he found himself in the unruly and often violent environs of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the African country where he was born, talking with Chetan Chug, an old family friend and a veteran businessman in the region.
Together, they hatched a plan: to stake out claims in the country’s rich copper-cobalt belt near the southern border, in Katanga Province. Leveraging Chug’s local savvy, the duo secured about two dozen permits, several of them sidled up against giant Freeport McMoRan’s now-prolific Tenke Fungurume mine.
CuCo Resources Ltd.’s early exploration success led to a $10-million (all currency in U.S. dollars) financing in the summer of 2008. Soon after came the financial collapse, however, and with the company’s bank account hurtling toward zero, CuCo gambled on a small-scale plan to quickly mine some cobalt to drum up cash. That meant putting off its real goal of going after more valuable copper. Industry veterans, and Talib’s own investors, were skeptical. “Not being from the mining industry, I could ask the really stupid questions,” says Talib. “It saved us.”
Employees: 200 Year founded: 2007 Home base: Toronto Price per pound of copper as of May, 2011: $4.20 Price increase over the past year: 40 per cent Estimated tonnes of copper at CuCo’s flagship Kisanfu site: 2.5 million Projected copper concentrate production in 2011, in tonnes: 10,000
CuCo Resources has since turned its small cobalt operation into a larger mine–and copper is set to come out of the ground later this year. With Talib expecting to have revenue of about $20-million in 2011, investor skepticism has eased. In February, CuCo raised $45-million in financing, ahead of a planned IPO this fall, when Talib expects the company to drum up another $50-million, and as much as $100-million–so long as copper remains as hot as it has been.
- Work with the right people. Malik Talib’s partner intimately understood the nuances of doing business in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company also signed on a geologist who’d spent four decades exploring, building and operating mines in Africa, and later installed an African mining engineer as its chief operating officer on the ground.
- Money talks. CuCo’s access to capital made a good idea on paper a reality. Backed by enticing prospects below ground and an able team above ground, Talib was able to persuade Macquarie Bank to put up half the original $10-million financing. “You can have the best plan in the world, but it’s useless unless you can bring in the investment,” he says.
- Understand your market. The DRC is scarred by decades of dictatorial rule and ongoing tribal warfare. “When you’re in a country like the DRC, you want to be on the lookout to make sure you’re not going to get in trouble,” Talib says. “The second thing is having confidence that you know how to do business there. The people there are no different than people in other parts of the world. They want to be respected. They want to get value from their resources.”