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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.

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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.

Thinking outside the innovation box

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The surge in innovation triggered by the invention of the internet and the development of the worldwide web 20 years ago has, to put it bluntly, changed everything. Apps appear (and disappear) all the time as we seek to harness the power of a virtually free globalised communication system. There are apps to tell us how many kilometres we’ve run, jogged, walked; there are apps to monitor our health, apps that recognise wine labels and can tell us where to buy a bottle; there are even apps to tell us about apps.

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Some of these apps will turn out to be useful, some will be a flash in the pan, and some will be game-changers … but so far none will tell you how to be successful in starting up a business and making it grow.

If the truth be told, although the internet has changed everything, everything has stayed the same. The challenges of starting and developing a business are the same now as they have always been. Whether you’re operating in the infotech world of apps or have developed a new medical procedure, if you want to monetise it then you need to answer one fundamental question: what are we going to sell, in what market, and at what price?

Although the question is simple, the answer is probably not because inherent in it is a business fundamental: can we sell enough of our product to generate sufficient cashflow to allow the business to survive? Let’s remember, without cashflow, the business will fail: it’s as harsh as that.

If your analysis shows that you’re unlikely to sell sufficient volume and you’re unable to market it at a sufficiently high price, then this suggests that you’re unlikely to be able to start up a company. But that’s not the end of it: if, in your opinion, the product or service is a genuine game-changer then, after establishing your intellectual copyright, you could market it on licence to one of the big players in the field and take royalties

The real business world is one of harsh reality. According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute for every 100 start-ups, 25 fail in the first year, 27 fail in the second year and 21 fail in the third year. That’s a staggering 73% failure rate over the first three years. The main reasons are: incompetence (particularly emotional pricing, taking too much from the business, non-payment of taxes, no knowledge of pricing, lack of planning, lack of knowledge of financing and no experience in record keeping) and lack of managerial experience (particularly poor credit granting practices and too rapid expansion).

Having invented a game-changing and innovative product, remember that starting up your own company is not necessarily the right answer. So consider sharing the risks and working with others to monetise your great idea.

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