…the story behind Grow For Me
In this era when the African continent is becoming more youthful and mobile technology is becoming deeply embedded, five inspired entrepreneurs took the initiative to set up Grow For Me; an agricultural technology financing, aggregation and trading platform that allows people to participate in farming and commodities-trading without getting their hands dirty.
Grow For Me also provides input financing for farmers to increase production, and its founders – Nana Opoku W. O. Agyeman-Prempeh, the Chief Executive Officer; Francis Monnie, the Chief Agronomist Officer; Ganapathy Venkatachalam, International Trade; Godfred Owusu, Chief Technology Officer; and Kwame Bekoe, Adviser and Shareholder – say they are committed to helping smallholder farmers escape poverty. The company’s support is centred on making the beneficiaries self-sufficient.
Read on as Nana, one of the founders, narrates how it all began.
Nana is a product of the University of Ghana with a Bachelor of Science (BSc) in Agricultural Engineering and subsequently an MPhil in Agricultural Engineering (Machine Systems). He is also a Mandela Washington Fellow (Leadership in Business).
Nana oversees the vision and implementation of strategy at Grow For Me, but how did it all begin?
According to Nana, in June 2018 four of the co-founders who had a common passion for agribusiness and cycling travelled from Accra through Togo and Benin to Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos, Nigeria, on bamboo bicycles. It took them five good days to reach their destination.
Even though their purpose was to raise funds to fight malaria and understand the similarities between West African countries, throughout the journey they said they saw similarities in agricultural practices and farm sizes. They therefore became convinced to pursue an idea they had discussed in the past in line with their current vision for agriculture, resulting in the birth of Grow For Me.
“When one of the founders proposed the idea to us again after our trip to Nigeria on the bamboo bicycles, of course we decided to pool together all our experiences and resources to start,” Nana recounted.
In 2018 the team started building and experimenting with the business. They focused on pineapple, raised about US$4,800 and repaid sponsors.
In 2021, Grow For Me partook in Kosmos Innovation Centre’s AgriTech Challenge Pro 2021, in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation, where they emerged finalists. This move was necessary to properly connect with experts in the agriculture ecosystem, gain knowledge in the space and properly leverage the opportunities this platform brought. Kosmos Innovation Centre provided advisory, mentorship, business support services and an incubation space for the organisation, with the latter in particular proving very useful.
“After three years of experimenting, we have built it into an early-stage profit-making business. Grow For Me Ltd. was established on January 16th 2020. With the founders’ experience in agricultural engineering, machine systems, technology, research and soil and water, we decided to build this company,” he told the B&FT.
Grow For Me
Grow For Me is authorised to operate fundraising and crowd-farming in Ghana by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC). It happens to be the first and only agritech business currently regulated by the SEC.
It has an experienced team with backgrounds in fintech, agronomy, trade and aviation. The team also has a multinational dimension with diverse backgrounds from Africa, Europe and Asia.
Grow For Me’s vision is to make food affordable and accessible to all. It hopes to achieve this over the next five years by raising about US$6million to grow its aggregation centres from six in Ghana to 95 warehouses in five African countries.
Also, it wants to make input financing accessible to over 6,000 women farmers in Ghana.
Speaking on challenges, he said Grow For Me – just like any other agribusiness, is confronted with many challenges. “Funding still lags in the broader tech industry, because the industry is geographically and conceptually outside areas flush with funding. This remains a challenge for upstart innovation programmes. Also, there is difficulty in accessing revolving funds and loans with low interest.”
He added that many of the existing agri-enterprises, despite tasting initial success, are facing difficulties in expanding because they lack commercial guidance. However, he said, with the right support tech firms in the agriculture value chain can scale-up.
To stimulate the entrepreneurship agenda, especially in the agritech space, Nana said more initiatives and projects directed toward sector space should be encouraged.
How can government assist startups?
“Although government has made a shift in its policies related to agriculture, we still have a long way to go. Also, exemption from some taxes for a period of time as well as making available equity, loans and grants to support startups in their early year of inception is crucial,” he noted.
Advice to young entrepreneurs
“Africa needs more youth and entrepreneurs to change our narrative. The challenges within our various sectors are huge, and the solutions lie within us. The solutions we provide are not just services you will be rendering for only the money, it’s also about building our continent, providing jobs for others and making an impact. Entrepreneurship is hard work, and it takes youths like you and me – people with a passion – to solve the problems we encounter daily,” he advised.
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