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Jonathan Philroy’s Insights on the Growth and Contribution of Kisangates

Posted on November 06 2020 / Jonathan Philroy’s Insights

The Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) of ICRISAT was established in 2003 by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) with the support of the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. Over the years, the incubator has supported 105 agri-tech start-ups across the country and has also played a key role in developing an agri-sector focused business incubation ecosystem in India and Africa.

As Manager of ABI-ICRISAT, Jonathan Philroy works with agri-tech start-ups and agribusinesses in validating their ideas, product development, and developing business models to support their growth. Jon holds an MBA from the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), India along with a Bachelor’s degree in Agriculture. He is also an infoDev (World Bank) certified business incubation trainer.
Do read his insights on the journey, evolution, and milestones of Kisangates.

What was the thought behind incubating Kisangates?

The Kisangates team approached us in 2013 with the idea of digitizing farm-related operations. These were the early days of the ICT-based tools that we are seeing in the market now. We found the idea of digitizing farm operations, advisory and market information connects very interestingly. This was also the time when the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium was promoting the Farmer Producer Organization (FPO) concept and the team indicated their plans to develop a CRM-like solution tailored to support FPO leaders in managing their operations. The other major factor was the quality and expertise of the founding team, all having worked in the agro/seed industry and agribusiness consultancy sector. We were also excited about what all we can do to support this start-up.

How do you think Kisangates has added value to the sector?

As with any start-up journey, Kisangates has also gone through product iterations. Pando (for field activity monitoring), iFive (farmer advisory and Value Chain Linkage) all came about as the team tried out their vision of deployed data-based decision systems to support various stakeholders in the sector. So Kisangates was way ahead of its time. The team later narrowed it down to agro-companies based on their prior experience and knowledge of the challenges affecting this set of players, so now we have PANDO as the flagship platform that can cater to not just field force management but also covering promotion and marketing activities, field-demo management, extension services, inventory management, review operations, etc. The aim is to reduce the expenses and bringing more efficiency to last-mile operations.

What are your thoughts on Pradeep and the team of Kisangates?

ABI-ICRISAT did a seed fund investment in Kisangates from a seed grant fund we got through the Department of Science & Technology, Government of India. So, that should tell you how highly we think about the team at Kisangates, their commitment, and capability to realize their vision. Even during this pandemic-led downturn, the team has been able to steady their operations and have been holding on quite well, I would say.

What role has ICRISAT played in the success of Kisangates?

Besides the seed fund, we helped Kisangates with business development activities, mentoring, and showcased their services in agri-expos and agribusiness conferences across the country; like our two FPO summits in 2014 and 2015 wherein farmers got a chance to see their tools and which helped us in generating valuable user feedback to fine-tune the model and products. We have done B2B programs that give our incubatees a platform to directly pitch to agri-input companies, FPOs, NGOs, corporates; investor-connect programs for that initial pitch etc. Kisangates is also a partner in our value-chain projects funded by Walmart Foundation and TN State Govt.

How agro-informatics is changing the narrative/business for seed companies?

With so much competition and tight margins, agri-input and seed companies are already implementing decision support systems to gather more intelligence from the field to optimize their spending and workforce deployment. Questions like how to reach out to retailers, training of field force staff, running product campaigns, inventory management, etc are finding answers by using systems like PANDO. So SaaS-based models like the one developed by Kisangates not only capture all these data points but also can churn it into insights for these companies thereby shortening the time and decision-making process. Research operations run by seed companies would also see some disruption to speed up the time to market process.

How will digital disrupt agri-business in the coming years?

With all that has affected the sector this year, we can surely expect digital agriculture to continue to make inroads in the agricultural operations across the value chain. Some of the recent industry surveys show how the pandemic has quickened the adoption of digital agriculture tools. We can use these tools to empower the farmer/farmer groups like FPOs to make better-informed decisions and get better returns. Sector stakeholders can use it to plug the gaps, reduce the expenses and channel it to the right segments to generate greater operational efficiency. Extension workers can use digital platforms to disseminate new technologies, impart training to build the skill-set of farmers and enable peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. Policymakers and regulators can get vital data to address concerns and strengthen resilience in the face of emerging shocks such as climate change. However, there are significant challenges to overcome: trust, infrastructure, connectivity, awareness and affordability/accessibility of these technologies and tools. We would be seeing a lot of partnerships in this domain and it would add value to agri-business. Exciting times ahead.

Are you planning to incubate more such startups?

For sure. These are pretty exciting times in the agri-tech domain. We are always looking to work with start-ups/entrepreneurs with good, potential ideas that find application across the agriculture value chain, and how it can benefit smallholder farmers. Our role is to empower the start-up team and we have built-up our ecosystem to help them for the journey ahead. One area we would like to do more is in the rural entrepreneurship promotion segment. We are doing quite a bit of work in that space through our value chain projects, but there is more that can be done to spin out off-farm ventures, say from FPOs for example. There are some rural innovators and SMBs doing great work in tier 2, tier 3 towns, and we are keen to tap into that space.