AGROOP: SEEDING INNOVATION TO GROW SUSTAINABILITY
The agricultural sector globally consumes 70% of the planet water, more than twice the industry (23%) and almost nine times the urban use (8%). The Portuguese startup Agroop developed a business intelligence system to help farmers optimise water usage, identify best operational and management practices and prevent plant diseases. Trough an application, they are using technology to democratize the agricultural sector.
The CEO and founder, Bruno Fonseca, is a tech entrepreneur passionate about developing impact projects in a global scale. Agroop is the first Portuguese startup which successfully completed three crowdfunding campaigns on the crowdfunding platform Seedrs. The company raised almost 700 thousand euros from 486 investors from 25 different nationalities.
In this interview, Fonseca talks about his personal trajectory until the creation of Agroop. Portuguese startups start thinking about internationalisation since the very beginning, according to him. “They are born global, developing scalable solutions to be sold mainly abroad.” Agroop was not an exception, with customers in seven countries: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.
What is your personal background?
After finishing my master’s degree in Communication Design I was invited to work as a graphic and identity designer in a branding and communication agency called WKY (We Know You).
Despite being a place where I was satisfied and doing something I loved, I felt the need to do something that could fulfil my personal and professional values. I invited Bruno Rodrigues, the best design student of my Master class, to start with me this great adventure that Agroop still is.
What inspired you to create Agroop?
During my Master’s studies I was doing some independent design work to gain experience. At that point I had the opportunity to create a branding strategy for a new customer, a farmer called Ricardo Araujo. Along the conversations we had, I began to understand the major challenges of an agricultural entrepreneur. I started to research technological solutions that could help him and get to work.
Agroop is a technological solution to help farmers monitor water needs of their crops and to prevent risk factors, namely plagues, diseases and adverse weather conditions. Apart from that, Agroop is also helping agronomists and consultancy farming companies to centralize information from their customers in order to provide a better consultancy service.
How was the process of establishing your business in Portugal?
In my perspective Portugal is an amazing pilot market, a great place to launch a startup and test a product. We have skilled labor power, an open market mindset, a government sensitive to the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Despite these positive characteristics, the purchase power in Portugal is not so high. For this reason, Portuguese startups start thinking about internationalisation very soon. They need to be born global startups, developing scalable solutions to be sold mainly abroad.
How did you manage to get your first international customers?
Agroop is not different from other Portuguese startups. The company was born with a strong international and scalable mindset. In 2016, Agroop was selected to be part of one of the most prestigious acceleration programs in Europe: H-Farm. There we developed part of our business plan and met our first international customer: Osvaldo.
Thanks to international events, like Websummit, we established interesting partnerships around the world. We met driven people willing to help us in some strategic markets, namely Australia and Brazil. At this moment Agroop has customers in seven countries: Portugal, Spain, Italy, Australia, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay.
What challenge did you find during your entrepreneurial journey?
The biggest challenge was to find investment to build a motivated team. Fortunately, he got the support of almost 500 investors from more than 25 nationalities through Seedrs (www.seedrs.com). Agroop has raised almost €700 thousand to support its early stage phase.
At the same time, developing a product was and still is a big challenge. You need to find a constant balance between what potential customers and users opinion and your intuition. Something I learned with the product development process it that when you are developing an innovative product sometimes even your customers don’t know exactly what they are looking for. Henry Ford has an interesting quote about that: “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
Besides that, being an entrepreneur is extremely demanding and invades your personal life. Many people, mainly your family and friends, will feel your absence more frequently, and manage it is a hard task.
Which advice would you give to those wishing to set up business in Portugal?
Portugal is not different from other ecosystems. With the right attitude you will find all you need to create a huge startup like Farfetch, Uniplaces or Seedrs. The website startupportugal.com is a nice starting point.
What is next for Agroop?
At this moment we are totally focused on the sales and business development stage, namely finding new channels and exploring new ways to spread our solution internationally. We already selected some target markets to expand in 2019, such as Australia, Brazil and Spain. In 2020 we will be present in the 5 continents, helping farmers and agro agents with their daily basis activities.
What is needed to be an entrepreneur?
First, to be resilient: you will pass through stressful and lonely moments and will want to throw the towel on the floor. If you fall 40 times, get up 40 times. Second, be adaptive, fearless and learn quick. Do not be afraid of making mistakes and learn through them. Fail fast, learn quickly.
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