In 2015, the Jamii virtual incubation platform, developed by Conrad researchers, launched its first cohort in collaboration with Strathmore University in Nairobi. Student Norman Munge and his co-founder Mburu Njunge joined the platform to build a startup to help connect farmers with agricultural services in their area. ConviFarm was born, and went on to win the first-ever Jamii challenge.
Fast forward two years: ConviFarm and Jamii have both experienced the pivots that characterize the startup journey, and both have continued to grow with new users. In July, the virtual connection between the ConviFarm team and Conrad mentors became face-to-face, as Mburu and Norman visited Waterloo for a week-long immersion into the local startup ecosystem.
ConviFarm: connecting farmers with agricultural services
Mburu describes ConviFarm as an offline Google Maps for certified agricultural companies. Farmers use ConviFarm to access complete information about agricultural service companies in their area via mobile phone. Meanwhile, agricultural companies benefit from consumer insights that help them make informed service delivery decisions.
Mburu grew up on a farm and went on to study agricultural and enterprise development in university, giving him a firsthand understanding of the challenges that small-holder farmers face in Kenya. Norman studied business and IT. They have spent a lot of time working alongside farmers to understand how to build a solution that works with their lifestyle.
"Farmers are so busy, they can't take time to input data or information," Mburu explains. "Most platforms try to work directly with farmers, but we took a top-down approach to make it as convenient as possible for farmers."
Virtual incubator provides motivation and momentum
The Jamii virtual incubator provides a virtual learning environment where entrepreneurs can come together, test their ideas, learn from one another, and receive both international and local mentorship to help start, build, and grow their venture ideas.
"Jamii put things into focus for us," explains Mburu. "Knowing that there are people across the world who are watching your updates and giving feedback, was inspiring."
The platform includes hand-picked resources to help with topics such as business model canvas and pitching. However, it's the sense of community between mentors and peers that really makes the difference.
"The positive criticism we received was important," adds Norman. "You don't want to only hear that you have a good idea. You want mentors to criticize it, give you a different perspective, and help you focus on the areas that need to improve."
Since the Jamii incubation program concluded, Mburu and Norman have continued to build ConviFarm, persevering through the challenges of bootstrapping a growing startup. The Jamii virtual incubator, too, has evolved, recently concluding another successful challenge with a group of graduate entrepreneurship students from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland.
Diving headfirst into the Waterloo ecosystem
The ConviFarm team's week in Waterloo included workshops with Conrad faculty and mentors and new connections with visiting students from Chile and Mexico.
The day-long design thinking and UX session led by Jamii project lead Karin Schmidlin reinforced lessons they have learned through conversations with customers. The team was also energized by the innovative working culture evident in tours of Velocity and Shopify.
"The productivity of this place challenges me," Norman says. "There are so many cool ideas being explored here. When I go back home, I am inspired to do even more."
Learn more about the Jamii Virtual Incubator.