For our Startup Spotlights, Times of Entrepreneurship scouted the most successful startups that spun out of top university competitions and programs. The impact of such awards can be many years in the making, especially in the DeepTech space.
Bringing commercial farming to everyone
Interviewee: Elizabeth Mastors, current chief of staff and early employee
Social Impact Track of the $100k New Ventures Competition by Tufts University: 2018 winner. “We were a bit of a different team, since we already had proof of concept and traction before the competition (and were several years past graduation).”
What is your elevator pitch? Bringing Commercial Farming to Everyone.
What should we know about you? Apollo Agriculture is not a Silicon Valley startup – we’re headquartered in Kenya, and our customers are rural small-scale farmers. We use automated operations to help farmers maximise their profits by providing the tools they need, but often can’t access: financing, farm inputs, advice, insurance, and market access, when possible. We use technology to create efficiency and keep costs low and scalable. So far, we have served over 40,000 farmers in Kenya.
Can you tell us about your role at Apollo Agriculture?
I was one of the early employees of the company, and was looking for an opportunity where I could build on my skills in relationship building, as well as have an active voice in a company’s development and launch. Last year I transitioned from my role as director of partnerships, focused on fundraising, investor relations, and communications, to chief of staff to our CEO.
What are you looking for?
Our core goal is growth – growing our customer base, as well as our team. We’re planning to bring on several new roles to our team, across all levels of the company, which is fantastic.
Why should someone invest in you? The opportunity in African agriculture is massive, but there are a ton of challenges helping farmers succeed. As a customer base, they’re highly rural and spread out, they lack formal financial credit histories, and the majority lack smart phones. The technology and credit models we’ve built allow us to reach and finance farmers in a scalable and sustainable way and overcome these challenges.
Is there a clear evidence of success you would like to share?
Aside from closing our Series A at the end of last year, I would say our growth in 2020 in the context of COVID 19 has shown us the relevance of what we do. Even in a pandemic, people have to eat, and so agriculture has to move forward, and we provide farmers with the tools they need to do that. With the pandemic slowing down or halting many businesses, we actually saw significant growth to 25k customers, and to me, that demonstrates the enduring importance of agriculture.
Number of employees: We currently employ about 120 staffs
Followup funding: We closed our $6M Series A equity fundraise at the end of 2019. You can see the announcement with names of investors here.
What is the best advice you have received?
If you are tackling unconventional challenges, approach them unconventionally.
More info on the competition:
Name: $100k New Ventures Competition, Social Track
Specialty: Categories: Social Impact, MedTech and Life Sciences, General/High Tech
Prize: $100,000If you have a Startup Spotlight to suggest, please contact Shirly Piperno, firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story and others on New Builders Dispatch are made possible by a sponsorship from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation is a private, nonpartisan foundation that provides access to opportunities that help people achieve financial stability, upward mobility, and economic prosperity – regardless of race, gender, or geography. The Kansas City, Mo.-based foundation uses its grantmaking, research, programs, and initiatives to support the start and growth of new businesses, a more prepared workforce, and stronger communities. For more information, visit www.kauffman.org and connect with www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn.