Kenyan Francis Nderitu’s Raino Tech4Impact cold storage start-up finished second in the African Development Bank’s AgriPitch competition last June, surprising the young man whose company brings farm-grown fish to market.
Despite not getting the top prize at AgriPitch, designed to train young African “agripreneurs” in how to pitch investors and scale up their business, the runner-up title turned out to be a calling card to Nderitu’s success.
“In July, I was in another start-up pitch competition in Kenya. The validation that we got from the African Development Bank, and also the whole training process that we went through, was preparation for the Kenyan competition,” Nderitu says. “We won the event, signed a deal with an investor and received the first $40,000 disbursement of a $100,000 investment within two weeks.”
The cash infusion from the Japanese venture capital company connected to the Kenyan competition, was followed by another investment from a Norwegian ocean impact investor. The combined commitment of $300,000 moved Raino Tech4Impact from startup “seed stage” to “growth stage.”
“Before AgriPitch, it was hard to have those conversations with these investors, because we are not validated in the market. The Bank conference was the main turning point,” Nderitu says.
Raino Tech4Impact describes its core business as cold chain – providing refrigerators and refrigerator transport to farm-grown fish companies operating out of Lake Victoria.
The company says it spent the AgriPitch $8,000 second-place prize to help carry out proof-of-concept and validation data for trucks and cooling boxes that keep tilapia fresh. But more valuable than the check, the company’s managing director Nderitu says, was the investor pitch training that participants received during the Bank’s African Youth Agriculture Forum, which culminated with AgriPitch.
“We are a B-2-B company. We need to make presentations, develop our skills on selling the benefits of our products. Pitch simulations and the repetitive process sharpened my skills in pitching to stakeholders, to customers, to investors,” Nderitu says, noting that the lessons helped his company to negotiate better product placement in Kenyan retail stores.
The annual African Youth Agriculture Forum draws hundreds of youth agripreneurs, government agencies, development partners, private sector leaders and potential investors from across the continent, to help young entrepreneurs in the agriculture sector scale up their businesses. Co-organized by the government of South Africa’s Western Cape province, and facilitated by Africa Business Group in 2019, the event awarded a total of $74,000 in cash prizes to competition winners tasked with pitching concepts around a climate-smart agriculture theme.
“The theme for the 2020 African Youth Agriculture Forum is Driving Sustainable Nutrition and Gender Inclusivity in Africa’s Agri-Food Systems: Youth Agripreneurs Seize the Decade. It will be held online in light of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Edson Mpyisi, Coordinator of the Bank’s Enable Youth program responsible for the competition.
Raino Tech4Impact is navigating the pandemic in real time. Usually sourcing Lake Victoria fish pulled to shores in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, Raino is now suffering breakdowns in supply chain as anti-coronavirus measures have restricted transport across national borders. Economic uncertainty is reducing purchasing power, with consumers opting for less expensive sources of protein, like grains.
To adapt, Raino Tech4Impact created an e-commerce platform for clients who are staying away from stores in light of social distancing guidelines, and is offering local deliveries. It now hires staff on short-term contracts to lower operation costs. Nderitu remains upbeat about the long-term growth of the fisheries sector, despite the present downturn in orders and supply.
“[Kenyan] culture is changing…People are turning away from red meat for white meat, like fish – even though it is not the cheapest protein. We are looking to expand our business across Kenya, and to other parts of the world,” Nderitu says.
Learn more about and register for this year’s Africa Youth Agripreneurs Forum (AYAF) and AgriPitch competition – the deadline is 23 October 2020: https://www.afdb.org/en/african-youth-agripreneurs-forum/ayaf-2020
Francis Nderitu (center) says placing 2nd at AgriPitch gave his start up the cred to secure hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments