The founder of a cassava processing business in Kenya, a co-founder of a novel food processing technology start-up, and the owner of a smallholder farmer food procurement company in Nigeria were among cash prizes winners in the African Development Bank’s (AfDB’s) $120,000 AgriPitch competition on Tuesday.
The Agriptch Competition offered young entrepreneurs in Africa’s agricultural sector the opportunity to pitch their agribusiness proposals to a panel of experts and investors who selected winners in “early start up”, mature start up” and women –empowered businesses” categories.
At the end of the selection processes, a Nigerian, Ikenna Nzewi, who owns Releaf agribusiness start up, won the Early Start-ups category’s prize of $20,000 while an Ugandan, David Matsiko, Bringo Fresh, won the runner up prize of ($10,000). In the Women-empowered Businesses’ category, a Kenyan, Elizabeth Gikebe, Mhogo Foods, won the star prize of ($20,000 while the runner up prize of $10,000was won by another Nigerian, Oluwaseun Sangoleye, Baby Grubz.
Also, the star prize of $40,000 of the Mature Start-ups category was won by another Nigerian, Femi Aiki, Foodlocker just as the runner up prize of $20,000 was won by Noel N’guessan, Lono of Côte d’Ivoire.
Commenting on her prize, Elizabeth Gikebe, the founder of Mbogho Foods said she was very excited when her name was called to receive her prize
Gikebe says she entered Mhogo Foods – a company that adds value to cassava production by processing the tubers into gluten-free flour, cassava snacks and animal feeds – into the competition in 2018 and again in 2019 without success. She says she’s glad she didn’t give up.
“With a lot of persistence, you can get what you are looking for. It showed me that everything has its time,” Gikebe said.
In his remarks, Ikenna Nzewi, the early start-up category winner, representing a food pre-processing technology company, said “to be chosen from such a qualified list of businesses is always exciting.” The company was started by Nigerian-American graduates from MIT, Yale, and Duke Universities, who set up shop in Uyo, Nigeria. Releaf plans to save the $20,000 competition prize for future investment.
“We are very confident about the work that we are doing to catalyze industrialization in food processing. It is excellent to see the African Development Bank with its High 5s focus – one of them being industrialization – to also be supporting us,” Nzewi added.
The winner of the $40,000 mature business category prize, Foodlocker CEO, Femi Aiki, said the seed funding provides “a lot of fuel for the road” for his business. Foodlocker supports smallholder farmers with technologies for the production of foods such as tomatoes and chicken.
Aiki said one of the major areas where Foodlocker needed support is working capital.
He enthused: “Now we can afford to buy more inputs. We can now afford to bring on board more experts in those value chains who can support smallholder farmers more remotely…That money will support the company to get results.”
The AgriPitch competition was part of the Bank’s fourth African Youth Agripreneurs Forum (AYAF) – one of the continent’s most exciting platforms for African youth in the agriculture start-up scene – which kicked off on 3 November with weekly webinars and ended with the AgriPitch winners’ ceremony.
Commenting on the competition and the results, Coordinator of the Bank’s Enable Youth Programme responsible for the event, Edson Mpyisi, said: “The Bank’s Enable Youth Program aims to empower youth at each stage of the agribusiness value chain by harnessing new and innovative skills, technologies and financing approaches, so that the youth can establish viable and profitable small and medium-sized enterprises.”
In Africa, small and medium-sized enterprises account for 90% of all businesses and create 70% of all the jobs and are the drivers of economic growth and long-term sustainability.
“Through the AgriPitch competition, the Bank is committed to supporting youth who are ambitious, creative, technology-savvy, and who have an entrepreneurial spirit to establish profitable small and medium-sized enterprises for a prosperous and inclusive Africa,” Mpyisi added.
In addition to receiving seed funding prizes and post-competition mentoring, AgriPitch winners will be invited to the AYAF online DealRoom, which connects expansion-ready, youth-led African businesses with global investors’
Held virtually, AgriPitch saw more than 2,500 applications and 605 proposals from 30 countries shortlisted down to 25 finalists from 12 countries. The finalists qualified for a two-week business development boot camp, and then a select top 9 AgriPitch competitors made their final pitches to an online panel of judges and investors.