History & Founding Members
Apollo Agriculture was founded in 2016 by Eli Pollak and Earl St Sauver (former employees of the Climate Corporation), plus Seth Silverman who simultaneously works at a venture capital firm. Apollo’s founding team pools together expert knowledge in technology, data science and agricultural operations. The Social FinTech launched their operations in 2017, serving maize farmers in Kenya. They generate large volumes of data about each customer. Over time, this will enable the company to create an even better offering thanks to their Machine Learning (ML) models. The founders’ vision is to help unbanked farmers maximise their profits via credit and financial literacy. Since their inception, Apollo has raised a total of $1.6m in funding.
Key Innovations – Credit Risk Analysis
Apollo Agriculture provides financing and agricultural tools to African farmers in a low-cost, flexible and highly scalable way. They do this by leveraging ML, mobile payments, remote imaging via satellite and sophisticated analytics.
Apollo builds credit profiles for unbanked farmers by using ML to process satellite tracking data of farmers’ land. This provides up-to-date data, allowing their ML models to interpret characteristics of each farm. Crop health, production and overall yields can be predicted and analysed – the uncovered insights are then leveraged to assess credit risk. These farmers do not tend to have any financial history, therefore obtaining credit would be rather difficult. Apollo’s innovative process allows these unbanked farmers to get credit in order to grow their businesses, based upon their potential earnings from their farmland.
Key Innovations – Digitalisation & Automisation
Once a customer’s credit profile is approved, a mobile voucher gets sent to their phone (a smartphone is not necessary). They redeem the voucher at an “agro-dealer” for a bundle of high-quality farming products (e.g. hybrid seeds and fertiliser) via credit. Apollo have created automated, digital processes for each step in the customer lifecycle. This lifecycle includes customer acquisition, credit transferal, training and collecting repayments. The credit is also grouped with crop insurance and customer-centric, voice-based trainings. These automated trainings are to help farmers develop their financial literacy and agricultural know-how – maximising profits and financial stability. Apollo’s agile approach of being digital and automated allows for major cost reductions when lending to small-scale farmers – in addition to a very scalable business model (Apollo grew their customer base 5x in 2018).
Apollo Agriculture charges a flat fee with flexible payment terms. Customers receive credit for their agricultural boosters at the start of the season, with advice throughout. Then loan repayments are due two weeks after harvest. These terms align with the farmer’s cash flow – allowing them to pay with ease when they have cash available.
Social FinTech – Banking the Unbanked
We have noticed a trend with Social FinTech startups finding innovative ways to bank the unbanked. Over 10 years ago, M-Pesa revolutionised the banking scene in Africa by essentially allowing banking via SMS messaging. Since then, countless startups have been banking the unbanked by leveraging cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain and Artificial Intelligence. Even Facebook has recently released their plans for Libra – aiming to allow the unbanked easy access to a cryptocurrency banking ecosystem. We expect this trend to continue – thus boosting the economies of these 3rd world countries – by leveraging innovative tech to avoid the hinderance of traditional infrastructures & procedures.