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 won the top cash prizes in the African Development Bank’s $120,000 AgriPitch competition held Tuesday.
The AgriPitch 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.
“I was so excited when I heard my name [called],” said Elizabeth Gikebe, founder of Mhogo Foods(link is external) in Kenya, who won the women-empowered businesses category $20,000 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.
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.
“To be chosen from such a qualified list of businesses is always exciting,” said Ikenna Nzewi, the early start-up category winner, representing Releaf(link is external), a food pre-processing technology company. 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(link is external) 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 needs support is working capital. “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,” he added.
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.
“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,” said Edson Mpyisi, Coordinator of the Bank’s Enable Youth Program responsible for the event.
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 collaboration with partners, including UN Women, African Leaders for Nutrition and the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa initiative (AFAWA), this year’s AYAF and AgriPitch competition awarded the winner and runner-up prizes as follows:
Winner: Femi Aiki, Foodlocker, Nigeria ($40,000)
Runner-Up: Noel N’guessan, Lono, Côte d’Ivoire ($20,000)
Winner: Elizabeth Gikebe, Mhogo Foods, Kenya ($20,000)
Runner-Up: Oluwaseun Sangoleye, Baby Grubz, Nigeria ($10,000)
Winner: Ikenna Nzewi, Releaf, Nigeria ($20,000)
Runner-Up: David Matsiko, Bringo Fresh, Uganda ($10,000)
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.