Banana sugar and cricket protein start-ups among the finalists for Mekong accelerator programme

Start-ups including a Cambodian firm that produces a unique banana sugar and a Vietnam cricket protein company are among the 23 businesses selected to take part in the Mekong Agritech Accelerator (MATCh) programme.

The chosen cohort includes 13 startups from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam, and 10 international firms proposing agritech solutions for these country markets.

MATCh’s application process identified agricultural technologies as well as new business models with the potential to reshape agriculture towards sustainable and inclusive growth in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMS).

The 23 finalists were chosen from 127 startups that applied.

“We are extremely impressed with the innovations from the MATCh participants,” ​said Dominic Mellor of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) who heads the Mekong Business Initiative (MBI), which is part of it.

“The Mekong Business Initiative (MBI) and our partners will work with the selected innovators and entrepreneurs on transforming the agricultural industry in the Mekong Region into a leading supplier of safe and nutritious food for all.”

Some of the interesting finalists include New Idea Enterprise, which produces a unique banana sugar — said to be safer than palm sugar and sugar from sugarcane — and other banana food products, and Cricket One, which produces protein from crickets using a technology to farm intensively as well as using agricultural by-products.

Others include Bolaven Farms limited from Laos, which has a zero-waste coffee cherry processing system and Greenovator from Myanmar, which created the Green Way Free Agri Mobile app for farmers to share daily crop market price, weather forecasting, farming practices techniques, and links to experts for advice.

A panel of agriculture and food industry experts and investors had evaluated the applications and selected the finalists.

According to Abhinav Mehra, vice-president of Future Food Asia and ID Capital, the organisation assessed the financial viability and the potential for investment of the ideas from the startups. Meanwhile, the ADB and grassroots NGOs of these Greater Mekong region countries assessed the execution of the idea and the feasibility of it in the market.

“For example, is the product or idea viable, or doable in Vietnam or Cambodia? An assessment of this requires more ground market knowledge which the grassroots NGOs can provide,”​ said Abhinav.

Helping agritech startups

Under the MATCh programme, the 23 agritech startups will learn, share and be able to grow their businesses and technology with the aid mentors, industry experts, and investors from across Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

Abhinav said, apart from ID Capital, which was one of the experts the venture investor perspective, other experts comprised senior officials from organisations based in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia such as the MBI, as well as local agribusinesses, investors, accelerators, incubators and ecosystem developers.

The startups went through a boot camp to improve and refine their business models, and to build their networks. They then joined the 2018 GMS Leaders Summit on March 30-31 and showcased their solutions and technologies.

These startups will be a part of the Future Food Asia Award event on May 23 in Singapore.

Accelerating regional growth

MATCh is the first accelerator for agritech startups in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. It is funded by the Australian Government and the ADB, and is co-organised by the MBI, Future Food Asia, and the GMS Core Agriculture Support Programme (CASP).

“Through a number of MATCh applicants, we found that the GMS region has embraced technology quite fast and had tweaked it to make it more applicable for their markets and customers,” ​said Isabelle Decitre, founder and CEO of ID Capital.

“Global solutions providers are a bit more mature business; helping them develop in the GMS region will further accelerate the adoption of technology by providing role models local entrepreneurs can relate to.” 

MBI aims to improve the business-enabling environment in these four emerging ASEAN markets with particular focus on business advocacy, alternative finance and innovation.

Source: Lester Wan, FoodNavigator – Asia