Capacity development for AgTech start-ups

 29 start-ups from 12 countries
D4Ag Training by Make-IT in Africa, IBM and UP42
from 7th until 11th of September 2020
to build capacities in the AgTech sector and make start-ups platform ready

Capacity Development for agtech start-ups

Bringing AgTech start-up solutions one step closer to farmers

AgTech start-ups have huge potential to drive agricultural transformation in Africa. Farming and digital technology? Absolutely! Digital solutions can help smallholder farmers improve yield gains or living conditions – and contribute to food security. The challenge lies in offering these innovative services to a sufficient number of farmers and thereby enabling profitable business models for AgTech start-ups. Make-IT in Africa has identified digital agricultural platforms as the path to improving market access and profitability for AgTech start-ups.

“Before the training I thought: farmers don’t need tech – farmers need solutions. Now after the training, my perception has changed: farmers need solutions with tech behind it.” – Kelvin Odoobo, Founder of Shambapro

Making introductions: AgTech start-ups and platforms

Integration into digital agricultural platforms empowers AgTech start-ups to expand their capabilities, access a larger number of farmers, and reduce costs of expansion. A platform also enables bundling product offers into end-to-end services. So it is essential for start-ups to be platform-ready. Digital for Agriculture (D4Ag) has established a capacity development programme with IBM and UP42 to bring AgTech start-ups closer to platform integration.

D4Ag aims to improve conditions for AgTech start-ups to scale digital solutions for the agri-food sector, and serves as a bridge to connect start-ups with platform operators through various activities like:

  • providing training to start-ups on business modelling, interoperability, and data analytics to get platform-ready
  • helping platforms to better engage with AgTech start-ups by giving them the necessary business and legal skills
  • matchmaking between AgTech start-ups and platforms

“We don’t have to re-invent the wheel but can leverage other people’s strengths. A platform makes it possible to reach more farmers, have cross-laning with other service providers, and focus on our areas of strength. It meets the needs of both service providers and end-users.” – Oyewale Abioye, Co-Founder of Tech4Ag/Mdairy

Group work during COVID-19. In the business modelling course, participants worked in small groups on revenue models and platform integration.

Learning to come together

A recent capacity development training brought together 29 AgTech start-ups from 12 African countries, providing them with training courses on how to plan, implement, and utilise platform integration from a business and technical perspective. The key objective was to provide participants with the required skills to help them better achieve platform integration.

With support from IBM and UP42, the courses focused on weather, earth observation, and satellite data, as well as their importance in the agricultural sector, including hands-on questions like: How reliable are Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for African weather?

Start-ups also participated in courses on business modelling, data analytics, and technical interoperability. Due to the pandemic, training took place entirely online. Learning without one-on-one interaction was a challenge, but the trainers put a lot of effort into providing many opportunities for exchange, asking questions and group work exercises.

In extensive business modelling sessions, the participants learnt to understand the platform ecosystem as a whole, and the importance of developing a platform mindset. Start-ups were encouraged to understand the role of different stakeholders and to identify their own possible position in the ecosystem.

Exercises were carried out digitally in small groups with tools that allowed everyone to work simultaneously. Here, a platform model canvas was used that included the different actors and their values, with each participant able to contribute their ideas.


“The business modelling sessions helped us to better profile our type of business, understand where we generate money, and what we bring to our stakeholders. The training helped us to fine tune every aspect of our business model, as well as how to integrate data, so we can overcome challenges such as farmer illiteracy, by using IVR and video in their mother language.” – Fred Zamblé, Founder of Seekewa

Terms such as APIs, NDVIs, and pandas were covered in the interoperability and data analytics courses. Throughout the week participants built on and improved their knowledge and skills. Moreover, in the interoperability sessions, the participants learnt how to integrate APIs as well as about which frameworks, protocols, and principles are available, using weather data API-integration examples.

“The major take-away from the training was learning about the benefits of integrating data into a solution, because with data we are able to make an informed decision for the future and current state. Without data, it’s difficult for us to forecast, and it’s also hard to get commitment from farmers.” – Oyewale Abioye, Co-Founder of Tech4Ag

In the data analytics courses, participants learnt how to use data structure, received an introduction to coding, the use of statistical methods, and data for prediction. In this technical part, the participants also gained knowledge about how to visualise data, demonstrate what the statements behind that data are, and decide which prediction model is appropriate for their own data.

“I now see the logic of how we are progressing from data, whether useful or not, to the point where these data are helping me to make a decision.” – Kelvin Odoobo, Founder of Shambapro

The course participants dive into the depths of the data world in the weather introduction data class.

Putting AgTech start-ups and farmers on the same platform

The AgTech start-ups taking part in the training all had innovative ideas that can significantly contribute to the agricultural transformation in Africa, and support African smallholder farmers. With our programme, we are able to put start-ups and farmers on the same page – or in this case, platform. Through our offers, we move AgTech start-ups closer to platform integration and sharing their digital solutions with a wider farming community.

“The training helped me to better understand data and different business models and how to build collaboration. We looked at case studies that were practical for understanding the African context – and how these collaborations work.” – Blessing Mene, Founder of Vetsark

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