Regularly, we want to present you the startups that are part of the RootCamp program. In this interview series we introduce you to the founders, their innovative technology and how RootCamp has taken the startup to the next level. Get to know Contagra of RootCamp batch #2.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Helmut Drewes and I live in Cape Town, South Africa. I am passionate about connecting the agrifood supply chain using innovative financial solutions enabled by software technologies. I have (co-)founded various companies that solve specific problems, specifically managing supply chain data at scale and financing agricultural production.
What makes your idea / product unique?
Farmers essentially have two options for financing their production. They can either offer collateral to banks in exchange for cash to pay suppliers, or negotiate credit terms with input suppliers to repay at harvest time. This makes it nearly impossible for farmers who don’t own assets or have a long credit history to finance their operations for growth. It also leads to a fragmented supply chain, with farmers being forced to sell their produce at harvest time. My idea is to offer online financial infrastructure to creditors that enables them to finance farmers based on the future value of their crop. This approach to finance is hard, and we have developed various innovative tools to take the pain away for creditors.
How did you get into the AgriFood Tech industry?
When my great-grandfather left Germany to purchase a farm in South Africa, he had no market information to assist him in purchasing land that could generate sustainable financial returns. It turned out that the farm he had purchased was exposed to high rainfall variability and occasional harsh winters. The net result was that my father, who had taken over the farm, could not ensure a sustainable return and made the tough decision to sell the farm. This left a deep impression on me as a child, and I grew up wondering how the story could have ended differently. I grew up drawn to the industry with a deep desire to impact change.
What’s your big vision?
My new start-up's mission is to increase the GDP of agriculture. The biggest opportunity to do this lies in Africa, where agricultural production is limited due to a lack of finance. Traditional financing models don’t work as many countries don’t provide land titles. I believe that our approach to finance can change this picture and turn Africa into an agricultural powerhouse, but with nutritional, quality produce.
Why did you apply for RootCamp?
The European Union has shown to be a leader in re-assessing modern industrial agriculture and the impact on our environment and society. I believe this will have a massive influence on food not only produced in Europe, but also imported from other regions such as Africa. This presents a massive opportunity to establish a company in Germany, which is at the heart of this change. RootCamp is leading the charge on this change, and being part of such a talented group of companies is an enormous privilege.
What do you hope to accomplish within the RootCamp program?
As a solo founder, I put tremendous value on being able to sound ideas with people that have a deep understanding of the challenges facing the agrifood supply chain and have real interest in making the new business a success. I hope to have a solid first version of a business plan that describes the core product offering for potential customers and investors. Being based in Cape Town, I also hope to expand my business network in Germany and Europe.
What advice would you give to other founders?
Over the years, I’ve learned that being first to market does not automatically result in being number one. A valuable skill is being able to identify a specific opportunity – even being a late entrant – and then aggressively working on becoming the best. This also means being patient and saying no to many ideas until you find the idea that you believe has potential. I’d say go out there and develop a “nose” for identifying opportunities and pursuing them with absolute focus.