Winning the vote of the entire jury, AgroCenta from Ghana was crowned the Seedstars Global Winner of the 5th edition of Seedstars Summit. At Seedstars, we are convinced that AgroCenta will shape the future of AgriTech in Africa. Indeed, the start-up’s mission is to improve the financial livelihood of smallholder farmers through fair trade.
Francis Obirikorang, co-founder and CEO of AgroCenta took the time to answer some of our questions.
Can you tell us how you came up with the idea behind AgroCenta and can you tell us briefly about the business model?
Michael and I have had several years of working experience in the agricultural industry in Ghana. In our previous jobs, we were already providing data such as weather information and market prices to smallholder farmers. We identified a missing gap in the value chain that was the capacity to access the market for smallholder farmers after they have successfully cultivated their commodities. Access to the market was a huge problem for millions of smallholder farmers. This pain point gave birth to the idea that started AgroCenta.
We’re primarily a digital food distribution and logistics platform creating shared value for local businesses and smallholder farmers. Our business model is simple, we are a B2B business that generates commission fees on trade volumes from the businesses we work with.
AgroCenta focuses as well as Seedstars on achieving the Sustainable Goals set up by the UN, how do you measure the positive impact that your business is making?
AgroCenta focuses on 3 key impact goals for Ghana:
1 - No Poverty: we are definitely improving the financial livelihood of smallholder farmers through fair trade. Many smallholder farmers are paid less than $1 a day and our objective is to increase it to $4 a day by 2020.
2 - Gender Equality: in Sub-Saharan Africa, traditions and land ownerships do not favor women, which ends up in many women being excluded from the agriculture value chain. By engaging the relevant stakeholders, AgroCenta rents arable agricultural lands to female smallholder farmers for free. Women are also given seeds, fertilizers, mechanized tractor services and extensive advisory information on farming best practices such as what type of seed to plant, when to plant, how to plant etc.
3 - Decent Work & Economic Growth: we empower smallholder farmers to see agriculture as more than just a way to survive and position it as a viable industry that can be sustainable for their family.
Does being an entrepreneur in Ghana - and in a developing economy in Africa - presents any ulterior challenges you had overcome?
Being an entrepreneur in Africa and in emerging markets in general is quite difficult because of the lack of structure and supports put in place by the government. It requires a lot of courage and persistence to get the simplest things done. Any simple tech solution that you might want to build can end up being a very complex challenge because it relies on services that do not exist or don't work properly. Access to funding also remains a big problem for many entrepreneurs who will need money to test, pilot and scale a platform or a solution. Many investors are quite held back when it comes to making investments in Africa for an obvious reason: corruption.
How was your experience at the Seedstars Summit and how did winning the competition help your company so far?
Seedstars Summit has been phenomenal. It has put AgroCenta on a pedestal and in the spotlight of a huge community in Africa. The experience after the Summit has been amazing: we received a lot of proposals from potential investors, partners and other service providers keen on working with us for growth and expansion.
What piece of advice would you give entrepreneurs in Ghana and more broadly in Africa?
One advice: leap, the net will always appear. You should also always remember that luck rewards persistent people.
What do you think was the key assets that led to the rapid growth of AgroCenta?
A great team for sure! Our major strength has been a team made of people with diverse backgrounds and experiences and a deep understanding of the agricultural value chain. This asset allowed us to save a lot of time we would have naturally spent on trying to fine tune and launch the AgroCenta platform. Thanks to that we avoided making the common mistakes many new and unexperienced founders make.
What is the hardest part about being the CEO of a startup?
'Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown'. You have to wear multiple hats to perform various roles. Finally managing people isn’t an easy task, it required specific skills to bring all team members to the same attitude and grasp the company’s vision.
Re-watch Francis Obirikorang's pitch at the Seedstars Summit below: