The Kenyan start up scene is vibrant with technology start-ups that solve a variety of problems in various fields. It is such achievements that make me proud to be here at this moment. Out of this start-ups few have been daring enough to create solutions for the agricultural sector. Out of this few, fewer have had great financial success. We celebrate the daring entrepreneurs behind these start-ups for taking the arrows in their backs, for trailblazing and preparing a way for the rest, whether successful or failed we honor their dedication to improving agriculture.
In my observation, agricultural based start-ups have the toughest times due to a number of factors. The idea of an agricultural solution in most start-ups is highly affected by technology, most start-ups want to put technology into agriculture, and they fail to solve the real problems that farmers face. This may be because they are run by people with technological backgrounds and little or no agricultural knowledge.
Expertise to evolve a start-up into a business with a known repeatable and scalable business model is a prevalent factor in many start-ups given the limited resources they have, most do not achieve the status investors would be willing to pump a lot of money into.
Markets fall into three broad categories
1. Existing markets
2. Segmented markets
3. New markets
Each of the above market type is key to a start-ups success, if a start-up does not identify the correct market it intends to serve, survival is minimal. Though approaches vary for managing a start-up, the science to do it is almost universal as it addresses the question of iteratively learning the problems of their customer and continuously improving the solution until the customer’s life cannot be bearable without it.
For agricultural start-ups, the problems to solve revolve around market for products, information to empower farmers and solutions to make agriculture better. An agricultural start-up in Kenya will have a challenge in markets because there are few successful agricultural start-ups to be used as guides, it will also have challenges identifying a problem worth solving to create a great business around.
For the greater part of it the above mentioned challenges are self-created, as founders of a start-up may want to solve a problem they think exists. It is common to hear the problem of, farmers lack a market for their products from many entrepreneurs yet markets (sokos) offer better solutions compared to some businesses leveraging technology. For agricultural start-ups to develop solutions that will be great businesses, the founders will have to ‘get out of the building’ and gather as much information as possible about their customers who most of the time is not the farmer alone but also the consumer of the farmers products, there is a tendency for agriculture to be a multi-sided market which is a bit complicated. A start-up covering only one side i.e. the farmer and not the consumers of the farmer’s products may have their solution working for the farmer but not for the consumer.
A good example would be an e-commerce site that sells farmers produce. The site will be offering the farmer with a platform to sell his or her product but the buyer’s needs will not be met if the produce is not being delivered to him by the company within a set of conditions to ensure maximum convenience.
The most common problems experienced by farmers rarely have nothing to do with technology yet most solutions offered to them are technological.
for agricultural start-ups to increase their chances of securing funding and solving the needs of their customers, understanding their customers and their needs by actually learning from them wherever they are and following a start-up methodology that allows them to establish at what level of their start-up evolution they are at will be important.
Thinking outside the box is not enough, start-ups must first establish a problem worth solving and learn from their customers how to solve it best.