This article was originally posted on the Tech City UK website.
Some of the most powerful innovation happening right now is focused on the world’s developing markets. We hear from the CEO and founder of WeFarm, Kenny Ewan, on why these areas are ripe for innovation
I’m proud to say that recently WeFarm reached a significant milestone. Over a million messages are now being sent through our system every month for the first time. For a startup whose target demographic is impoverished farmers, in developing countries – specifically, those who live in remote areas without internet access – it’s a pretty big deal.
A lot of you may know that an impressive technological revolution is happening in Africa, where more than 90% of people now have access to a mobile phone.
WeFarm was developed as a simple way for farmers to share information with one another through their mobile phones. There are an estimated 500 million smallholder farmers in the world and many have generations worth of expertise in agriculture, but they often lack a way to share this information with one another. Our mobile platform allows farmers to ask questions and share tips all through sending a basic SMS, and without access to internet.
I wanted to write a blog post to encourage more UK tech entrepreneurs to look to developing countries to innovate – there are lots of exciting technology businesses popping up, but there is definitely room for lots more.
So here goes, the reasons why I think more tech entrepreneurs should look to innovate in Africa, LATAM and Asia:
‘Old’ technology can still be innovative
The traditional ‘beep beep’ of a mobile phone receiving a good old fashioned text message might seem like a noise from a different era now, but in developing markets, even the most basic technology can still be innovative, depending on the ideas that you bring to the table.
‘Innovation’ has become such a buzzword in tech circles and I would agree with Toby Shapshak that real innovation is about solving real, large, complex problems (you can watch his excellent TEDtalk for his opinions on innovation). Working in developing markets gives you the opportunity to solve real problems, and the best bit is, you can utilise existing technologies in clever ways, to make a big difference.
Large challenges create large markets
I don’t need to try to persuade you of the importance of scalability – but with developing countries there is a large opportunity to create products and services that will be used by millions of people.
Often entrepreneurs are tentative to even look at developing markets because they are nervous that people tend to have smaller disposable incomes. but many of the world’s greatest technology businesses provide free services. Facebook, Whatsapp, Google, Citymapper… With quality services that can change lives, you might just create the next big thing.
Crowdsourcing – provide a platform for experts
It goes without saying that before entering a market you need to know it inside out. But it’s also worth a reminder that you don’t need to provide expertise if your customers are the experts!
While the crowdsourcing model has formed the basis of many of the most successful companies, apps and websites in the Western world (think eBay, Google and Wikipedia) the potential for it has largely been ignored in the developing world. To be blunt, there has often been a perception that poor, isolated people just need to be told what to do, rather than consulted for any kind of bottom-up opinion. “Do farmers really have knowledge to share with each other?!” was the most common question we were asked. Hopefully 50,000 unique answers shared from farmers to farmers in our first 6 months starts to answer that!
My main point is – human knowledge is an incredibly powerful tool. We are all so used to the internet that it’s almost inconceivable to imagine a world without it. But some people still don’t have access to certain pieces of information that could truly improve their everyday lives. And with the right platforms, the crowd already has vital knowledge to share, so you don’t need to be the expert. Open source is an equally interesting way to share information – you can see some examples here.
The next time you’re thinking about starting the next ‘innovative, disruptive app’ for a market that is highly saturated, why don’t you consider innovating in a place that still doesn’t even have the most basic technology in place? It may sound counterintuitive, but you might just make a massive difference in the lives of people who really need it.
Have you attempted to innovate in developing markets? Or do you know of other innovative tech business trying to change the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Contact Kenny.
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