Kenya-based agritech Apollo raises $40 million in Softbank-led round along with Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, CDC – TechCrunch

Kenya-based agritech Apollo Agriculture, which helps farmers access quality agricultural inputs, financing and markets, plans to double the number of farmers it serves by the end of 2022 and introduce other products that deliver greater value per hectare of land. This is after raising $40 million in Series B funding in the equity round led by Softbank Vision Fund 2.

Apollo uses the satellite images of farms and AI to assess the creditworthiness of farmers. It plans to use the new funding to refine its technology and provide more products and services to farmers. Launched in 2016, the startup works with a network of agents, who recruit farmers and retailers for its platform.

Apollo Agriculture co-founder and CEO, Eli Pollak, told TechCrunch, speaking of their priority areas, “We continue to invest in rapid growth; serving more farmers, helping them grow their acreage and really accelerating the business. And so it will. be both an ongoing expansion in Kenya, but also an expansion into new markets.”

The agritech is looking for growth opportunities in East and West Africa.

“We also continue to develop products that deliver more value per hectare. That could be new crops that help customers earn more money,” says Pollak, who co-founded Apollo with Benjamin Njenga and Earl St Sauver.

Apollo started by partnering with corn farmers, but helping them diversify into other high-yielding crops was the focus.

“We started with maize. Corn isn’t perfect, but it has a huge advantage, which is that almost every farmer in East Africa plants. This gives us a place where we can earn the farmer’s trust and deliver immediate value,” he said.

“We believe the path from subsistence farming to farming as a business means working with that farmer and using our machine learning models to identify the farmers with the best prospects to graduate to higher profitability crops.”

By the end of last year, Apollo had worked with 100,000 farmers, with plans to double its reach by the end of this year. It has a network of “more than a thousand” retailers and 5,000 agents across the country.

The agents bring farmers aboard the Apollo, while retailers use the startup’s “checkout app” to handle points of sale, inventory, wholesale orders and access to trade credit.

Since closing a $6 million Series A in 2020, Pollak said Apollo has grown 10-fold, accelerated by product financing. The agritech has also received more than $16 million in debt financing over the years for further loans.

Apollo started working with corn farmers, but is now helping them diversify into other high-yielding crops. Image Credits: Zafaran Photography

Apollo’s products include insurance – which is offered by its partners, including Pula, Kenya-based insurtech.

“We designed our business to strengthen agricultural systems, and when you think about climate change, we bundle insurance with every loan we sell to protect the borrower,” Pollak said.

The latest funding round involved participation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Yara Growth Ventures, Endeavor Catalyst, CDC and existing investors including Anthemis Exponential Ventures, Flourish Ventures, Leaps by Bayer, SBI, Breyer Capital and TO Ventures Food.

SoftBank Investment Investment Director, AdvisersAlexia Yannopoulos, said: “In the face of ongoing macroeconomic and geopolitical volatility, feeding the world is one of the key challenges facing society. Apollo’s platform provides a one-stop-shop solution to enable small-scale “Helping farmers in emerging regions improve crop and livestock yields. Embedding valuable financial services such as credit, insurance and advice into the supply chain is critical to supporting a more efficient and sustainable global food chain.”

Pollak and Earl previously worked at The Climate Corporation in the US, helping farmers use data to make production decisions. With the urge to create a bigger impact, they launched Apollo to help farmers outside of the US more than double their production and switch from subsistence farming to commercial farming.

The agricultural sector contributes 26% to Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP), employs more than 40% of the country’s population, and accounts for 65% of its export earnings. It is this importance to the country’s economic livelihood that makes the sector a key focus area for innovators. Other agritech companies already creating ripples in the market include Twiga, the B2B supply chain company, and iProcure, an agricultural input procurement platform and last-mile distribution service.

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