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.