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Q&A with Kenny Ewan

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In this week’s column from June’s Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR), we go head-to-head with Kenny Ewan of WeFarm to find out why he decided to step out on his own, whether he had that ‘lightbulb moment’ and how he secured the funding to finance his start up.

Why did you set up your company?

I spent many years working with isolated, indigenous communities in Peru and saw first-hand the grassroots innovation and ideas they were creating to solve challenges. However, I also saw that there was a huge discrepancy in the way this knowledge was shared, and information in general was accessed, in the developing world compared to the massive trend towards decentralization of knowledge and peer to peer sharing in the Western world driven by the internet. In 2009 I was offered the chance to be part of the Cafedirect Producers’ Foundation (CPF – A UK registered charity working with small-scale farmers around the world) start-up team with Claire Rhodes. We put our ideas and experiences together to design the first version of what would become WeFarm.

When did you set up your business, and how long did it take?

we farm 2WeFarm launched as a social enterprise in January 2015, and we launched the product one month later in Kenya.  We had previously been piloting and developing WeFarm as a CPF project for several years before taking the step to launch and scale as a social business – we felt this was a much more scalable and sustainable model.

We developed the product with farming communities in Peru, Kenya and Tanzania which I think was unbelievably beneficial – it meant that we developed something that people on the ground find useful and actually want to use!

Did you have a ‘lightbulb moment’ that led to you starting your business, or which triggered a change in the way you did things?

I think the path to WeFarm being launched was more of a gradual coming together of ideas, experiences and pilots than a single lightbulb moment. However, there have a few special moments along the way. I would pick out the first international test we did with farmers in Peru and Kenya as a great WeFarm moment… I was with a group of rural farmers in Peru as the first messages came in from Kenya, and it was amazing to see people’s reaction to receiving key information from the other side of the world, all in their own language and without internet. That was the moment I knew we had something of huge potential on our hands.

Where did you source funding to set up your business?

WeFarm initially was developed and tested under the UK charity Cafedirect Producers’ Foundation (CPF) and received grant funding from Nominet Trust and Knight Foundation. Then, in 2014 we won the Google Impact Challenge Award. The prize money enabled us to put our plans to launch WeFarm at scale as a social enterprise into action.

In 2015 we were part of the Wayra accelerator programme in London, which included investment into WeFarm.

Were there any EU, national, regional or local business support services, programmes or funding initiatives that helped you set up or grow?

The Wayra accelerator programme was very valuable in getting business support, coaching, mentoring, and certainly  a lot of practice in how to pitch! We have also been part of the Ideas From Europe initiative run by the European Commission over the last few months. This has helped us gain a bit of exposure on the European stage, and culminated in a talk at TEDxBinnenhof, which was very exciting.

With hindsight, which would have been the single most valuable skill to have before setting up your business?

I’d say pitching and public speaking. It’s not necessarily fair that startup businesses are judged on a two or three minute ‘pitch’, but that is the reality. There is no doubt that the startups who can tell a great story and capture people’s imagination in a pitch find themselves with lots more opportunities across PR, funding and entry into different events.

Ultimately you obviously need to have substance behind it to succeed, but I’d certainly advise startup founders to practice, practice and practice their pitch. Or be brave enough to know it’s not your thing, and find a partner who can.

About Kenny

Kenny-Ewan 2Kenny is CEO of WeFarm, a pioneering social enterprise, scaling a unique peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing platform for the 450 million small-scale farmers around the world with no access to the internet. After graduating from the University of Dundee, Kenny went to Peru in 2002 to work on sustainable development projects with indigenous communities. He loved the country so much that he decided to stay. In 2007, he became Peru’s Country Director for ProWorld Service Corps. This international development NGO specialises in projects for isolated, indigenous communities. He returned to the UK in 2009 to join the Cafedirect Producers Foundation (CPF) start-up team. He designed and managed all of CPF’s international projects across East Africa and Latin America.

The Internet for people with no Internet

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In this week’s post from our June Entrepreneur in Residence, Kenny Ewan of WeFarm delivers a TEDx Talk about providing the benefits of the Internet to the 500 million small-scale farmers around the world with no Internet access.

ewan

WeFarm is a pioneering social enterprise, scaling a unique peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing platform for the 500 million small-scale farmers around the world with no access to the Internet. These farmers are isolated; often many miles walk from the nearest village or access point to vital information. They have no way to diversify, improve their farms and livelihoods or even start a new micro-enterprise. Which is where WeFarm comes in. With WeFarm, users can share questions, advice and ideas addressing anything from farming techniques to business ideas, and all accessible to anyone, anywhere – without leaving the farm or having any access to the Internet.
WeFarm picture farm
Since its launch, WeFarm has already scaled to more than 29,000 farmers using the system, with more than 3.6 million SMS processed already. By harnessing the generations’ worth of knowledge contained within farming communities themselves, WeFarm aims to have one million farmers benefitting from the system by end 2016.

About Kenny

Kenny-Ewan 2Kenny is CEO of WeFarm, a pioneering social enterprise, scaling a unique peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing platform for the 450 million small-scale farmers around the world with no access to the internet. After graduating from the University of Dundee, Kenny went to Peru in 2002 to work on sustainable development projects with indigenous communities. He loved the country so much that he decided to stay. In 2007, he became Peru’s Country Director for ProWorld Service Corps. This international development NGO specialises in projects for isolated, indigenous communities. He returned to the UK in 2009 to join the Cafedirect Producers Foundation (CPF) start-up team. He designed and managed all of CPF’s international projects across East Africa and Latin America.

“The battle between work and life is nonsense”

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In this week’s column from May’s Entrepreneur in Residence (EiR), Nathan Farrugia of Ultimate Performance explains how he achieves work-life balance, and tells us what it’s like to work with his wife.

Nathan team heros

It’s always an interesting dynamic to mix family and business. With your partner being one of your associates, it’s even more complex from an emotional perspective. We’re very different characters, with Deirdre being direct and extroverted while I’m an introvert and very pragmatic in my approach to problems. Mostly we do our own thing in our own way, and sometimes argue if our paths collide but, at the end of the day, we have the advantage of being able to settle it over a bottle of wine and a cuddle. Not many colleagues have that advantage, I guess…

The main stress on us both is managing our time with our kids. They’re so busy and their extracurricular activities are very energy consuming. They dance, do sport, and are always on sleep-overs or at parties, while we taxi them around to make sure they don’t miss out. Sometimes our quiet weekends suffer because we are so busy. By the end of Sunday, we’re all tired, and the next day it’s back to work.

But our kids are great. Watching them grow and develop has been an enlightening experience. I’ve learnt a great deal about leadership from being a father. I’ve also learnt a lot about managing emotions with three ladies in the house!

I wake up early and go for a run, swim or cycle if I’m racing triathlon. This is my time to think, to mentally plan my day and perhaps listen to a podcast or chapter in an interesting textbook. Doubling up the time to take care of my body and my mind is a great life-hack.

I usually have a quick breakfast and coffee then get to my desk at home to catch up on admin or emails. I do most of my social media marketing on the fly so, as soon as I can, I get out of the house and spend my day with clients, or at the foundations. I rarely get the time to stop during the day. I love the fact I have no set office, and change scenery many times a day. I love the diversity my work brings, from coaching and teaching to keynote speaking, politicking and strategising. My mind stays sharp with constant change. I also get to ride my Triumph Bonneville all day across town, which is great fun!

I usually work 10 hour days, with evening events happening a few times a week. Sometimes these are charity fundraisers, VIP events, a date with my wife or simply catching up with friends. In between, it’s at home with a good movie, a glass of wine and healthy home cooked food. I try and spend as much time with my kids over the weekend, and I help with homework and activity trips during weekday evenings. I make it a point to put them to bed and kiss them goodnight every night.

Achieving work-life balance

I developed a thought process that I call The FIRE Model, which I use in my coaching as well as to keep stock of my own life. The model helps me cope with the multitude of pressures on our lives, and shows us that the battle between ‘Work’ and ‘Life’ is nonsense. We have one life and we need to maximise it in every area.

nathan scheme

Using the model, I’m careful to create opportunities to fill each area of my life in a balanced way. Like a Balance Scorecard, I want to make sure that every aspect of my life is given due attention. I seek out things that scare me and excite me at the same time. I like to be out of my comfort zone. This leads to more flow, which helps me focus at work and get things done with less pressure.

Because of time constraints, our need to continuously learn and develop often falls by the wayside. I practice mindfulness, learn new things all the time and always accept an opportunity to try and hone my skills, whether it’s public speaking or my coaching skills. We must continue to sharpen the knife of excellence if we want to be fulfilled, and be useful to others.

Ultimately, we need to find meaning in what we do and this is best described by the various layers of F.I.R.E. we can create. The more we can find Flow, make an Impact, act Responsibly and continuously seek to be better tomorrow than we are today, i.e. Excel, the more meaningful our lives will be.

About Nathan

NF-Bust-BWNathan Farrugia is an entrepreneur. He attributes much of his success to a mindset that challenges the impossible and takes every obstacle as an opportunity to find new solutions to old problems. He has used this mindset to break world record endurance challenges, as well as to grow successful enterprises. He now spends most of his time coaching CEOs and business leaders on how to unlock their own performance potential as part of the UP Academy. Visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

Croatian start-up is one of the “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World of Sports”

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anita busicBodyRecog™ markets itself as The Body Shaper Tracking App and, even before it’s been officially launched, this conceptually simple yet highly sophisticated app has won eleven innovation awards.

This month, it picked up yet another accolade when it was recognised as one of the “Top 50 Most Innovative Companies in the World of Sports” by the Hype Foundation, a global entrepreneurship empowerment organisation. As a result, the BodyRecog™ app will officially be launched at the Rio Olympics this summer.

The inventor of the BodyRecog™, Anita Bušić, is from Zagreb in Croatia. The author of academic textbooks on biology, she is the driving force behind the app’s development and has drawn together an impressive team of fellow academics and innovation professionals from across the world.

bodyrecog-app-180pxBodyRecog™ uses the camera in a smartphone, together with some user input, to digitally measure the human body. It analyses the data provided, explains the biometrics and offers expert recommendations on the user’s smartphone. It is, in fact, a health risk assessment system for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancer, among others, based on a person’s body type and shape. While the personal app uses a smartphone camera or webcam, the PRO version uses a scanner to provide the higher level of precision required by professional users.

The story of BodyRecog™ is one of persistence, getting the right people involved, and putting the idea in front of as many experts as possible. Anita has traveled the world to present her idea at innovation shows and to those in a position to help. The hard work has obviously paid off – BodyRecog™ has been featured in over 250 journals, newspapers, and on television internationally. She and her team have also founded LIVE GOOD, a start-up dedicated to developing ICT solutions for medical sciences.

After hearing about the Hype Foundation honour, Anita welcomed the acknowledgment saying, “All our hard work over the last few years is finally being recognised. We are very excited about this opportunity and intend to use it to the fullest.”

Entrepreneurs are our future: go on inspiring us

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/Ideas from Europe Part 2/ 

Disruptive technology, such as the internet and the myriad of apps that it has spawned, has changed forever the way we access and interpret information. We’re all familiar with the idea of ‘googling’ any enquiry. But a less familiar result of the same technology is that the creation of information is now a massive activity and one which has a very uneven outcome – anyone can now publish anything on the internet where it is likely to stay unread.

anita

According to Anita Schøll Brede of Norway, well over 3000 research-based papers are published each and every day – that’s over one million papers published each year – and around 50% of these will have a readership of less than five people. To Anita, that suggests that a huge quantity of information is being lost, a problem she set out to address with the help of AI IRIS, her robotic assistant. IRIS reads all new papers, and analyses, summarises and presents them in a comprehensive and ordered way thereby making the information more widely and easily available.

Kenny Ewan of the United Kingdom is also concerned about the availability of quality information, especially for those who could benefit from it most. Kenny reports that 500 million small scale farmers are without access to the internet and many are at least 30 kms from the nearest village, making the crowd-sourced information they could use to address their queries inaccessible. What is needed, he asserts, is a peer-to-peer network for small scale farmers that allows them to access information without having to leave their village.

“Knowledge is free and accessible but not widely implemented on the big problems”

Charalampos Ioannou of Greece sees the need for communication technologies in other areas too. He believes that, in future, many more people will suffer from loneliness and, perhaps, most worryingly, a lack of supervised and integrated health care. To address this, Charalampos has created Bioassist, a gadget that integrates communications (including social media) with a health monitor that is connected to and integrated with health service providers and emergency response services.

eldery

The problem of the amount of waste that is generated in society, and its efficient collection, sorting and recycling, is a preoccupation of Pirkka Palomäki of Finland. Pirkka considers that to approach a sustainable waste handling system, we need to not only look at and invest in recycling systems, but we also need to improve the efficiency of the collection system. Waste collection in most developed countries is carried out in accordance with a schedule and this results in an inefficient process in which the collectors are dealing as much with partially filled containers as with those that are overflowing. What Palomäki wants to see is a variation of just-in-time thinking so that the waste collection vehicles only stop and empty those bins that are approaching a “full” condition. Pirrka developed the Enevo, which looks like a yellow blob attached to a waste bin. It contains sensors that determine how full the bin is, when would be the optimum time to empty it and then sends that information to a central computer that works out the optimum routing for the waste collection vehicle.  The adoption of Palomäki system would eventually see the end of uncollected waste and streets blocked by waste collection vehicles. It would also reduce costs and emissions by utilising a sustainable waste disposal system.

“We need to think outside the box”

Not all issues can be addressed by technology, as Nathan Farrugia of Malta showed us. Considered ‘disabled’ by many in his society, he recounted that when he was young, his friends adapted their plans so that he was included rather than excluded because of his health condition. But, as he grew up, he realised that only about 5% of disabled people found work and that businesses and potential employers claimed a lack of resources and expertise to support them. This results, according to Nathan, in a huge waste of talent – a waste that costs governments millions of euros in support benefits. To support those who are ‘disabled’ but would like to work, Nathan has assembled a team and created Empower to promote the strengths of the disabled and to show employers that these outweigh the perceived weaknesses of their disability. With the continuing development of robots and other disruptive technologies, the disabled are being placed in an even more marginalised and vulnerable position. “We need to think outside the box to empower and realise the potential of those with disabilities” Nathan says.

No surprise speakers earned standing ovation in the end. The commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska summed it up perfectly: “Entrepreneurs are our future; go on inspiring us!”

standing_ovations

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Go back to the /Ideas from Europe Part 1/ 

For more information about TEDxBinnenhof | Ideas from Europe and the speakers, please contact Diana Kool or Michiel Stol | www.ideasfromeurope.eu | #TEDxB16 | #IdeasfromEU

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