And the winners of the NpM Innovator's Challenge are...

13 November, 2018

 

Original Source: Accenture

It wasn’t easy to choose but the winners are: Apollo Agriculture, Agri-Wallet and VanderSat. The prize money was made available by Rabobank Foundation, FMO and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Final at the Accenture Innovation Awards

It was the energy at the event that really struck Andrew Shaw, one of the jury members. The FMO financial inclusion and fintech specialist was part of the panel that was assigned both the privilege and the challenge of choosing three winners out of six selected finalists. Which was, by no means, an easy task. As Shaw notes: “The summit was like a candy shop of solutions. The six finalists all pitched compelling innovations! I was greatly inspired by the number of young people out there who are turning their brains and efforts toward solving global problems using technology in a smart manner.”

Ultimately, three of the six finalists could walk away with the prize. “The three winners each had something unique in the way they approached the problem at hand, but what convinced me was that there was a strong focus on the scalability and replicability of their solutions.” For Shaw, the pilot proposed by VanderSat stood out as being particularly remarkable. “They have a platform play, which means it can be accessed by a wide range of players in the ecosystem, and it can even be combined with other services, leading to some potentially groundbreaking ‘mashups’. I am especially eager to see the outcome of their pilot.”

The NpM Innovator's Challenge was one of the events held during the Innovation Summit, part of the Accenture Innovation Awards' year-round innovation journey.

VanderSat: Time to put TARA to work

With prize money assured, there is nothing stopping VanderSat from making their proposed TARA platform a reality. Tessa Kramer, remote sensing analyst at VanderSat, is over the moon about their win. She was responsible for the visualizations that accompanied the VanderSat pitch, which was presented by her colleague, Céline Nobel. “We are obviously very happy to have won! It is the perfect reward for all the time and hard work we put into the development of TARA, a risk assessment platform for financial service providers that translates satellite data into quantified risk information pertaining to crop conditions, farmer practices and the capacity of smallholders to cope with climate change.”

Apollo Agriculture: Great energy from the get-go

Co-winner Liz Mastors is just as excited about her startup having come out on top. Kenya-based venture Apollo Agriculture leverages agronomic machine learning, remote sensing technology and mobile phones to deliver the tools farmers need to increase their yields and the credit they require to afford inputs. I felt the energy of the summit the second we walked inside – and even when we were on the train on our way from Amsterdam, as many of the passengers were clearly also attending the event! Our pitch was first thing in the morning, so it was great to be met with that energy right from the get-go. It was a big honor to pitch in front of a jury with so much industry expertise,” says Liz.

Apollo Agriculture’s victory makes room for them to run several pilots. Liz: “We plan to pilot two advanced machine learning techniques – ‘unsupervised’ and ‘semi-supervised’ machine learning – that will help us to refine our credit model at a much faster rate. We also plan to conduct several experiments to fine-tune the digital operations that enable our low-touch, low-cost lending model.”

Agri-Wallet and Geodatics: Combined experience and a holistic approach

“For us at Agri-Wallet and Geodatics, the Innovator’s Challenge was a great opportunity to see how our joint idea resonates with different stakeholders,” explains Violanda de Man, Innovation Manager at Geodatics, who partnered with Agri-Wallet to develop the winning concept. “The workshops that were part of the event itinerary added great value in terms of networking opportunities and they helped us to further hone our concept and pilot.”

The prize money will be used to run a pilot testing the feasibility of combining different sources of geodata, farmer profiles and crop growth models to provide effective time- and location-specific advice to smallholder farmers, and to lower financial risk for farmers, financial service providers and other value chain actors.

What was it about their pitch that impressed the jury? Violanda explains: “I think it was our combined experience in helping farmers to increase their yield and income, coupled with our holistic approach, that won over the judges. Together, we can provide advice, improve access to loans, deliver the required inputs, and link farmers to buyers.”

A tiny gap between winners and non-winners

“It was a shame we could only pick three winners,” says Albert Boogaard, Head of Innovation at the Rabobank Foundation, and one of the members of the jury. “All of the pitches were of a very high quality, and there weren’t huge differences between those finalists who won and those who didn’t. A highlight for me was seeing how all of the winners managed to come up with tangible solutions that link geodata and finance, even though they all approached the problem from different angles. Like Andrew, I was really impressed by VanderSat’s technology, which can literally see through the clouds, but also Geodatics and Agri-Wallet’s smart combination of a fintech platform with an existing farmer’s network and remote sensing solution impressed me. Apollo Agriculture also blew us away with their highly digital and integrated distribution model that uses the most advanced machine learning techniques, many of these based on geodata.”

The first NpM Innovator’s Challenge: a great success

One thing’s for sure: there’s lots of excitement around the first-ever NpM Innovator’s Challenge. As Andrew Shaw says, challenges "are a very interesting tool for shining a light on specific problems in order to source specific solutions. It’s vital to make sure we clearly define the issue we are trying to tackle and remain open-minded about the types of solutions that we get back. This way, we have the possibility of channeling new talent into the arena, just like how it happened at the NpM Innovator’s Challenge.”

Albert Boogaard agrees: “I love how these types of events connect startups with a broad network of end users, while also providing insight into the challenges that smallholders and financial institutions encounter. And, of course, there’s great value in the fruitful connections that are made on the day itself, too!”

Geodatics’ Violanda de Man makes a similar point: “Challenges like this provide a platform for networking and communication, as well as the resources (not just in the financial realm) needed to bring concepts to life.”

See you next year!

VanderSat’s Tessa Kramer has some helpful words of advice for future pitchers: “Attend the workshops that are part of the challenge to further develop your idea and to get assistance in formulating a clear, concise pitch. I would also recommend practicing in front of different people and asking them for advice. Accept help wherever you can get it to make your innovation a reality.”

Josien Sluijs, Director of NpM, the organization responsible for the event, wraps it all up nicely. “The most promising, impactful ideas were those that provide farmers and financial institutions with broad solution-based packages. The jury appreciated the fact that partnerships were formed to develop concepts; after all, to be successful, AgTech companies need to collaborate with other organizations with different expertise. The judges emphasized the importance of the outcome of the challenge, as they strongly believe that this is a significant step towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – ‘zero hunger’ – and finding solutions for the food security issue. The finalists of the challenge prove, once again, that we have all the technical knowledge available to us, and it is our responsibility to organize this well.”

Read the first article in this series: Can Geodata tackle the global security issue?

Read the second article in this series: Meet the finalists of the NpM Innovator's Challenge

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