Friday, September 12, 2014

My Summer Work: Business Incubation Curriculum for Agriculture Technologies

When I accepted the offer to work with Land O’Lakes International Development Division, as a summer Enterprise Consultant, I could’ve never imagined the impact I would have on a group of farmers turned agriculture technology entrepreneurs, and more importantly, the impact that these inventors would have on me.

Land O’Lakes is a recipient of an award from the US Agency for International Development, USAID, to implement Innovations in Gender Equality (IGE) to Promote Household Food Security. This is a two-year (Sep 2012-Sep 2014) program that aims to develop local capacity for building and sustaining women’s empowerment in Tanzania’s agriculture and food security arenas.

IGE, in conjunction with the Coalition for the Advancement of Women in Agriculture in Tanzania (CAWAT) facilitated a series of competitions entitled ‘Women’s Agricultural Innovations Awards’ (WAIA). These competitions were designed to target locally designed innovative technologies that address the needs of farmers, with an emphasis on the needs of women farmers in Tanzania. As a result, 21 women-friendly agricultural technologies were selected as sub awardees of these competitions.

The task was to travel to Tanzania for the summer to design a business incubation curriculum for the sub awardees. I have worked with start-ups in the past through previous employment and my current experience on the Social Venture Fund, a student-led impact investment fund at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. However, I have never worked with companies that are pre-revenue, and as early as the blueprinting phase of business development.

Before traveling to Africa, as a true MBA student, I did my due diligence. I talked to successful entrepreneurs, business incubators, and researched key authorities of agriculture development in the region including Feed the Future and ANDE. It was the initial consultations with different sub awardees that directed my work the most.  Below are some of the main insights that I gathered while conducting my research:
  •   Many of the business development resources, from funding applications to mentorship opportunities were geared toward English speaking participants, which excludes a large segment of the Tanzanian population that only speak Swahili.
  • All sub awardees that I came in contact with expressed a desire to gain access to financial resources. Many lacked the collateral needed to qualify for traditional loans and were looking for ways to raise, maintain, and save enough capital to run their business
  • None of the sub awardees that I came in contact with viewed business as a 2-way conversation with customers. They were creating amazing products, but not consulting their customers to provide valuable feedback to make their technologies even better.

The curriculum I compiled provides a general framework for starting a business including: Business Model Overview, Customer Discovery, Marketing, Finance and Partnerships. There are 17 sessions that make-up 5 days of training in total. I split the pilot trainings up into two workshops in Morogoro, Tanzania during the months of June and July 2014. Even though the trainings are based off of highly credible frameworks such as the Lean Start-up methodology, the curriculum has been modified to relate to gender-specific, agriculture technologies in developing nations. Some of the highlights of this training include:

  • Rural Technology examples to relate to participants
  • SWOT Analysis specific to Agricultural Technology Landscape
  • Gender Specific questions & reference
  • Speaker series session featured representation from a self-made local female entrepreneur & micro-finance consultant
  • English & Swahili translated materials
  • Market externalities specific to agriculture technology sector in developing nations to highlight reasons that farmers may not adapt technologies

Below are a few pictures from the pilot training this summer.
Teaching the sub awardees about the business model canvas 

Participants calculating the cost of their technology taking into consideration all factors including: labor, raw materials, equipment, overhead. One participant previously calculated costs to be 30% less than the actual value.
Handing a certificate of completion to one of the participants at the conclusion of the training

As far as next steps, – The Land O’Lakes IDD Technical Team plans to submit a proposal to ANDE’s 6th RFP for the Capacity Development Fund, supported by the Lemelson Foundation and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women. The goal of the Capacity Development Fund is to increase the productivity and effectiveness of ANDE members, as well as to encourage increased collaboration between organizations, while creating tools and insights that can help the SGB sector as a whole. Selected proposals are eligible for a grant up to 18months and $50,000.
If selected, Land O’Lakes plans to produce a guidebook and best practice report on accelerating enterprises – specifically, technology/invention-based enterprises in the agriculture sector in emerging markets. The business curriculum would be included in the guidebook, with potential to influence the broader ANDE community and industry as a whole.

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