News | October 9, 2019

How-To Innovator Guide Unveiled At SOCAP This Month


Innovation rarely comes with a how-to instruction manual, and it’s a fact that any road to success is often marked by pothole hazards and with serpentine curves where you, as the saying goes, meet yourself coming.

It’s difficult enough trying to start a business in mature markets. Now imagine trying to run a business in a rural community in a developing country that has poor roads and customers that can’t pay you upfront, if you know your potential customers at all.

But frontier market development pros with the Water and Energy for Food (WE4F) Grand Challenge program, a unique initiative aimed at making sure the planet has sufficient water and energy food for the future, have done just that in “An Innovator’s Guide Book”.

The book will be unveiled at SOCAP (Social Capital Markets), which represents a network of investors, entrepreneurs, and social impact leaders coming together to offer market solutions to world problems. The date is October 23 in San Francisco.

The undertaking is led by Ben Amick, a senior advisor for Resonance Inc., development experts working with USAID, and the governments of Sweden, South Africa, and the Netherlands, as part of the global WE4F program.

Amick didn’t start from scratch on the book project, which was inspired by the program’s team lead, USAID’s Dr. Ku McMahan, who is considered a founding partner of the WE4F program.

Amick’s editorial team had the benefit of several dozen innovator initiatives working in the five-year-old Securing Water for Food (SWFF) program, most with substantial success in scalability and sustainability in agriculture.

The innovators, from 24 countries from around the world, entered into stiff competition with hundreds of competitors to receive funding and strategic technical and business advice through the SWFF program.

Their ideas included innovative irrigation methods, area-specific weather forecasting of droughts and flooding, inventions of specific tools to increase crop yield, and seed development to fight salinity and pests, among others.

It wasn’t easy.

The various innovators had to reach yearly benchmarks to stay in the program and to receive continued funding and advice. Some washed out, but most were successful in saving water and causing upticks in crop production, among other tangible benefits.

Often, after strategic advice from SWFF’s technical assistance team, a key pivot was often the difference between failure and success. It kept them in the program and moving toward sustainability.

This gave Amick and his team the building blocks and concrete examples to develop the innovators’ guide so that future innovators and entrepreneurs might have a leg up and avoid multiple pitfalls.

“Basically, it’s a practical, insightful analysis on how to help entrepreneurs in these difficult markets to overcome challenges unique to frontier markets to turn their businesses into sustainable and profitable ventures,” said Amick. “The bottom line is that when you work in scaling innovations in agriculture in frontier markets, you have a lot to consider.

“Can poor farmers pay the price for the innovator’s product? How can you engage low-income distributors in your supply chain? How do you work with ‘mom and pop’ manufacturers to reach volume? In other words, it’s much different from how you work in mature markets,” added Amick.

“The fact is,” said Amick, “we don’t know all the right answers necessarily, but we have found out from the innovators how they overcome these challenges. We believe in pulling the solutions from the innovators.”

Amick described the book’s publication as the first deliverable of the new program, Water and Energy for Food (WE4F). It’s a movement toward supporting more enterprise-driven development and securing investment for innovative ideas.

The first portion of the book is a review of the successes to date and lessons learned while the second half is devoted to a practical guide of overcoming specific challenges, how to test the market, and how to accelerate the innovation.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel here but drawing on SWFF experiences over the last five years to improve WE4F,” explained Amick. “The primary audience is entrepreneurs, while, secondarily, we want it to be of use to incubators, donors, and investors looking to help innovators succeed in the market.”

Amick said his team interviewed 30 innovators in compiling material for the 100-page book. “We wanted to produce a practical tool, but we are not introducing it strictly in terms of raising capital since the challenges are much more nuanced on how to accelerate a frontier market-based business in the WE4F nexus,” he added.

As McMahan has described both the SWFF and the coming WE4F program, each innovation has to inch toward sustainability and scalability while being environmentally sound.

However, there are multiple barometers for success, including the number of beneficiaries reached; and, in fact, whether the status of women in the market has been elevated from second-class citizens to equal footing.

“I am optimistic about the future if we can shift donor support to accelerate innovation-driven enterprise entrepreneurship in frontier markets,” said Amick, who has been working in international development for the last 15 years. “Working with a wide group of partners, I think we can do it. A lot more people must be engaged, including multinational corporations that are sourcing from farmers the world over.”

The fact is the mission is truly one in which, as the movie line goes, “failure is not an option.”

By 2050, it is projected that the world’s population will top nine billion with sufficient useable, year-round water to accommodate only a third of that number.

USAID, Sweden — through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and the governments of The Netherlands and South Africa — invested $34M in Securing Water for Food (SWFF) to promote science and technology solutions that enable the production of more food with less water and/or make more water available for food production, processing, and distribution.

SOURCE: USAID / Securing Water for Food