Friday, January 7, 2011

Girls who created social network for farmers

Anthony Njoroge | NATION The M-Farm proprietors (from left) Jamila Abbas, Susan Oguya, Linda Omwenga and  Lilian Nduati. They won Sh1 million in a software development competition organised by IPO48, an Estonian-based organisation, held at Strathmore University last year.

Anthony Njoroge | NATION The M-Farm proprietors (from left) Jamila Abbas, Susan Oguya, Linda Omwenga and Lilian Nduati. They won Sh1 million in a software development competition organised by IPO48, an Estonian-based organisation, held at Strathmore University last year. 

By John Makeni jmakeni@ke.nationmedia.com

For two young Kenyan university graduates, employment was only a stepping stone to better things. They were restless and wanted more out of life.

Having left Strathmore University, Jamila Abass and Susan Oguya always dreamt of becoming entrepreneurs. Jamila was a software engineer while Susan studied computer science.

While Jamila got a job at Kemri, Susan found some work at iHub, a technology community based along Nairobi’s Ngong Road. Jamila also became a member of the community, an open space where technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers come together to share ideas.

While at iHub, they came across many newspaper reports about farmers complaining about fluctuating prices or adverse weather conditions.

“Every time we read a newspaper there was at least a story about the plight of a farmer,” recalls Jamila.

But the epiphany was on September 18, 2010 when the duo read a story about a sweet potato farmer who was complaining about difficulties in marketing his produce.

“We didn’t have somewhere to note down. Susan took tissue paper out of her pocket and wrote the details down. We thought it was time to solve the problem using technology,” says Jamila.

The two also became members of AkiraChix, another forum for women interested in information technology, where they teamed up with three other Strathmore University students, Linda Omwenga, 22, Lillian Nduati, 21, and Catherine Kiguru, 23.

They heard about IPO48, a software development competition for young entrepreneurs, which they entered.

The competition is organised by HumanIPO, based in Estonia.

The idea of IPO48 is simple, start a technology company over the course of 48 hours and win Sh1 million.

The event featured 100 contestants, made up of 17 teams, each with its own distinct business model.

During the intensive 48-hour competition held at Strathmore University last November, they emerged tops with their innovative M-Farm, an application that connects farmers with suppliers, agrovets and cooperatives. Farmers also get current market prices for their produce that are compared to prices in other regions.

They won Sh1 million for their efforts, the top prize in the competition. They were also promised Sh3 million to help launch M-Farm in the market.

The working girls all resigned their jobs and incorporated students Linda, Lillian and Catherine in the firm. Jamila is the firm’s CEO while Susan is the technical officer. Linda and Catherine are marketers while Lillian is in charge of public relations.

The M-Farm service helps small-scale farmers get price information that will help them know where to get the best deal for their products through their mobile phones.

The group has contacted farmers in Kinangop for their premium service. Their short-code SMS service will revolve around weather updates, mapping, service to community cooperatives, buying and selling of farm inputs and connecting suppliers to farmers.

“We will be providing service to everyone and we also want to educate the youth that farming is not only for the old because they are leaving everything to the older generation,” says Jamila.

Farmers spend a lot in input and get little,” says Jamila. “We bring them together to buy the input together at reasonable prices.”

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