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Ampion is a Berlin-based accelerator and advisory firm promoting technology entrepreneurship in Africa. In this series, Ventureburn follows the organisation’s Ampion Venture Bus tour through Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, in its seven-day bootcamp for entrepreneurs.
After a slower start to the first day, Ampion’s Venture Bus has revved things up. Throwing participants into the deep end, the tour starts to focus on agriculture and pitching.
Keeping the same randomly assigned groups as the day before, the participants were now charged with looking at problems within the farming and agriculture sectors in sub-Saharan Africa. The bus’s first stop was at a cattle farm where the owners gave a brief over of their business and a group tour. During the tour the group was allowed to ask questions about the farm, its staff, problems encountered, and so on.
Once completed, the bus headed to the border crossing to Botswana, but not before settling in Gobabis for a pit stop. The participants then spoke to the locals to gather more information about farming and agriculture in the community. Some of the participants seemed a little shell-shocked after questioning rounds on what life is like in Botswana.
The Venture Bus eventually arrived at its overnight destination, Trail Blazers just outside of Ghanzi, Botswana. After some confusion from the staff about room allocations everyone was settled in either a chalet or a hut. I had the privilege of sleeping in a hut, and as a tech-orientated journalist, it was quite a change having to finish an article at 1am with no power, a dying laptop, surrounded by branches in 30-degree heat, on a small bed, and under a mosquito net watching the little beasts try their hardest to devour me.
The evening’s challenge issues to the groups was to create a Persona. The personal challenge involves creating a fictional person with entrepreneurial needs. One of the examples put forward was helping someone selling tomatoes, where 50% of the produce spoils before hitting the market.
All of the groups were then allowed to present their personas to the rest of the tour. This presentation involved quick pitches about the persona’s plight as well as a brief Q&A from the audience to find out more. Afterwards, everyone was allowed to vote for and then choose the best persona which piqued their interest. This process formed new groups, which would be carried forward until the final pitching stage in Cape Town, South Africa. The pitches would be presented the following evening at the Botswana Innovation Hub.
Some groups stayed up late into he night discussing their newly chosen personas or unwinding after a long day’s travel.
Sunday, day three of the Ampion Venture Bus tour, started bright and early. Even though some were still groggy after the previous night’s scorching heat, no time was wasted in getting the teams together.
One mentor put forward the day’s theme, “Today is about answering questions.” Each team is tasked with coming up with at least 30 ideas about their chosen persona the previous night within 10 minutes. These ideas had to be kept secret by each team member as to not create extended discussions during this process. The ideas could be absolutely anything, and in some cases ignored the sky being the limit.
Each participant soon got to work rattling through ideas and thinking up all manner of weird and crazy concepts. Afterwards, the group was lead in a meditation session by leader and mentor, Marko Müller, in order to help them think.
Everyone was then loaded onto the bus as we departed Trail Blazers and continued on our entrepreneurial bootcamp journey. Once settled, the teams were now allowed to share all of their ideas and had to choose 30 per group.
Around lunchtime, the idea phase was closed and it was now time for the prototyping phase.
Ferdinand Mühlhäuser, one of the mentors, gave a short presentation on creating lean starups. Some of it was taken from a book, Running Lean. According to Mühlhäuser, nine out of 10 startups fail and 66% have to drastically change their plans at a very late stage.
As Mühlhäuser says, “A lot of people go out of their way to develop something for the customer but don’t ever speak to the customer about it.” He says businesses need to keep rethinking their customer’s problems, solutions, and recreate ideas before they run out of runway.
He went on discuss business plans, which he describes as huge, cumbersome, tedious documents with lots of assumptions, while many potential investors and banks won’t read through them. “If you can’t fit it [your idea] on one page then it’s not a good idea.”
Mühlhäuser said it’s all about problems, listening to customers, and being open to them. Entrepreneurs need to interview their customers and emails don’t count; rather have face-to-face meetings or even over a Skype calls.
The talk included always staying centred around the customer and the problem. Diving the customer’s needs into problems that are “should have” and “must have” and understand the price a customer is willing to pay. With the scale-to-cost ratio, customers must feel the value more than the cost of a product or service.
After the presentation, teams were given 10 minutes to find the final idea they want to bring to life and pitch.
The teams were now tasked with finding the MVP, or minimal viable product for their ideas. It should be a product that can be taken to market quickest. Teams would need to figure out if the MVP responded to a need or a desire for their target group.
The third day’s evening was held at the Botswana Innovation Hub. After wolfing down their supper, the teams prepared their products and ideas for the first round of pitches. Tension was high and nerves were scattered as they were called in one by one to present. In front of a panel of the leaders, mentors, and guests from the Botswana Innovation Hub.
The judging criteria included the ability to solve the problem, if the idea was an MVP, and evaluating the product from a business model perspective.
The first pitch was for Flow Aqua Stations. This persona required the farmer to supply a sustainable source of water to his fruit trees, and supply a viable infrastructure. The teams idea was to create a petrol-pump-like device that would siphon water from boreholes and charge customers 5c per litre. Users could use pre-paid cards to pay for their purchase and select how many litres of water was needed.
According to the team, the device would cost US$8 000 (PRICE?) to set up the machine, but the company would dig the hole at no cost. The customer would make the investment back by charging a rate to its customers to get the water. Their research showed digging your own bore hole could cost US$6 000 with no guarantee of success.
The mentors asked if farmers would still need to bring their own containers and transportation to the borehole.
The second pitch was SheFarms, a woman-orientated farming platform. Farmers receive information via text, or questions to answer and earn points for discounts on items. Companies will pay for referrals when the farmers purchase their products, such as fertiliser. For now, the target market is women.
One of the mentors mentioned farmers may be sceptical about the idea, because it’s possible to push a product and a supplier’s own agenda. The group answered this by saying they’ll be partnering with different companies that have tested the products and know they work.
Another point mentioned by the mentors is that just having a revenue stream by working with advertisers may be difficult.
The third pitch was that of ND Africa, a platform connecting verified sellers with corporate buyers that require stock. Sellers would need to upload the required documentation and the platform and it would check the sellers. This information would be conveyed to buyers and buyers would be allowed to rate sellers as well.
Some mentors were curious as to how the company would grow their marketplace and makes sure sellers continue to supply the same standard of quality over time.
The fourth pitch came from eKHAYA, which aims to be a learning platform for those wanting to learn about farming. It would also create employment opportunities as farmers are often looking for skilled workers.
The current revenue stream would come from farmers paying for the platform, but a less-risky revenue stream, such as subscriptions for the online courses, is being looked into.
The platform is looking for meaningful partners for relevant content, such as region-specific courses, and official boards to offer certificates.
SkEyeFarm is a drone-based service for farmers. Drones would be able to map farms and push the data into a mapping software tool to give the farmer and overview of the area. It would be a subscription—based model with once a month usage mentioned.
There are still technical factors to look into, such as charging time for drones, battery life, price of the drones, and how the drones could land and charge themselves. The company would need US$3 000 investment per performance drone.
The sixth pitch of the evening came from insurance model-based company, Bullsurance. Farmers would pay for the service during the rainy months to cover them during draughts. Bullsurance would then supply feed and grass to the farmers when there’s a shortage of water.
Mentors asked what type of food would be suppliers, how will it be suppliers, the insurance time-frame before kicking in, and if there would be a policy to replace dead cattle.
The second-last pitch of the evening was CoCo Shop, a container-based pop-up system for selling produce. Farmers would load their goods into the container and CoCo Shop would deliver it to a pre-determined location. The container would transform into a pop-up shop to trade with corporate buyers. Unsold goods that day would be refrigerated in the container and sold off.
CoCo Shop would generate revenue from charging five to ten percent commission on items sold.
The evening’s final pitch was Afri Capital. Taking a cue from Venture Bus, the company would source international investors and source them entrepreneurs in Africa in need of money. They would then try to match the two in the best possible way.
The mentors stated there would be lots of cost involved in setting up something like this.
Overall the pitches went well. Teams were listening to mentors and taking in suggestions. They would need to refine them for the next day where they would be pitching at the JoziHub in Johannesburg, South Africa.
For more updates on the Ampion Venture Bus tour through Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, be sure to follow Ventureburn’s Twitter account.
Edit: fixed heading