Entrepreneurship in times of corona: Crop Tech

Dealing creatively with challenges is second nature to entrepreneurs. But how do African entrepreneurs deal with a global crisis such as the corona epidemic? We asked CropTech, a Rwanda based manufacturer of solar-powered drying systems.

It’s Time to Build! That’s the title of a recent hard-hitting blog post by famed Silicon Valley investor, Marc Andreessen. He commented that software was ‘eating the world’ and that the tech world wasn’t building anymore. As we all know in Belgium, how many food delivery services can one country have yet can’t produce enough medical facemasks for hospital staff? 

Less crop loss

While, we’re tasked with a new challenge to ‘build,’ our SusTech4Africa progamme participants have been building in the most literal sense. This week, we caught up with Thierry Shema, Founder of CropTech Ltd, a Rwanda based manufacturer of solar-powered drying systems. 

The origins of Crop Tech date back to 2017 with Thierry at university where he was designing solar powered drying systems. Thierry noted: "someone told us that we could really help farmers handle their harvests more efficiently…. In a nut shell, the post-harvest losses were the inspiration for the business idea."

Enormous potential impact

In Rwanda, nearly 70% of Rwandans are farmers and Thierry found a solution to improve farmer livelihoods and fix a common, widespread and most important, a local problem. At OVO, social impact and a company contributing to the achievement of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are key elements we look for when identifying start-ups. 

Crop Tech was identified through our 2019 SusTech4Africa Rwanda program and in March attended a two-week mini-MBA programme at Hasselt University.  Thierry summed up his experience: "{OVO} was really helpful and I learnt several aspects that shall help me to go further… with strategic marketing and creating an innovative business model."

The pinnacle of his stay was on 9 March at our Business Club Africa event, where Thierry stepped up in front of 70 persons to sell his passion and product. A few months on, he’s receiving support, fine-tuning his business plan and financials.

Effects of corona crisis

Our conversation then switched into the ‘elephant in the room.’ Rwanda was one of the first African countries to go into lockdown back in March. The lockdown has hit start-ups hard. Not many African businesses can ‘go digital’ and according to a recent study, 89% of jobs in Rwanda can’t be done from home. In terms of his experiences, Thierry shared: "{our} planned activities on our action plan died due to the lockdown and in confinement we can’t proceed… this has been really devastating."

The challenge has not only affected his business but also the farmers he works with. Thankfully, over the last few weeks and in the coming weeks ahead the restrictions of the lockdown have or will be reduced in Rwanda.

We’re not sure what the world will be like post-COVID 19 but one thing we’re sure about is that our agile entrepreneurs such as Thierry will continue to build and keep solving local problems. 

Text: Andrew Herweg - Final editing: com&co