Ricult Raises Money
Ricult, which just raised $1.85 million in seed funding and is backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aims to do just that with a digital platform emulating the services these middlemen provide but transparently and at reasonable rates.
After harvest, Ricult aims to connect farmers directly with end buyers at processing mills, giving them clear transparency on the end pricing. Javaid says Ricult marks up the cost of the inputs for three times lower than farmers were paying before, and on the other end charges the processing mills for access to these farmers. The buyers are happy to pay this fee as Ricult provides them data in return that they wouldn’t usually get, such as yield forecasts or which inputs were used as well as traceability, according to Javaid.
I am a bit oversimplifying when I say that they are a marketplace like Uber. The startup actually wants to help farmers in the whole process of crops production to selling. But while that’s commendable, at the end of the day the startup itself is going to make money if it has buyers on the other side. And that’s where my contention lies with it. While farmers are obviously the right place to start because they are vulnerable of the two, I don’t see data about forecasts and traceability to be good enough motivators for buyers to get on board. Especially in a country like Pakistan where mill operators are kind of a mafia in themselves.
But there are a few things that make me optimistic about the venture. For one, the team is not young fresh university graduates. They are actually experienced business people with possibly valuable connections in the industry. Second, while there are always going to be bad actors in any industry that does not mean there are no good ones. And that’s where their social mission of helping farmers is going to come in handy. And I think it’s pretty smart move on their part to not describe themselves as Uber for X although their business model is pretty much the same. On the contrary, the startup pins the social aspect of their business as a second bottom line.
It’s the last point which I believe got Bill and Melinda interested in them.
SoftBank Invests in PolicyBazaar
India’s PolicyBazaar, which runs a digital insurance business of the same name and a lending marketplace called PaisaBazaar.com, is the latest company to join SoftBank’s $100 billion Vision Fund after it announced a new funding round of over $200 million.
The deal was led by the Vision Fund with participation from existing investors including InfoEdge, the company behind jobs platform Naukri.com. The startup’s other investors count Softbank, Temasek, Tiger Global and True North, but an announcement from PolicyBazaar didn’t specifically mention if any of those names took place in this latest round.
The news is making rounds on Twitter mainly because of SoftBank. And not so much for PolicyBazaar. Flipkart exit was a hard one for SoftBank. Though the returns were good it hampered SoftBank’s longterm ambition in the country. The juggernaut, in particular, its vision fund, is betting on a utopian future where AI is pervasive. And sees itself as the glue that connects different parts of the future by investing in companies from all sectors of life. And from all important tech hubs of the world. This The-Ken piece (paywall) highlights SoftBank’s vision for India. And provides a useful framework to understand their investment in PolicyBazaar.
To achieve this goal, SoftBank needs to invest in and own a part of the most important “frontier technology” companies in the world, in areas such as robotics, AI, autonomous transport, space tech and Internet of Things (IoT), but it would also include the companies that would serve as the data-feeders for these high-tech firms. Which explains why the Vision Fund wants a piece of companies in e-commerce, food, work, medicine, transport and payments, companies that are seeking to bring new tech to old industries or are entirely disrupting and taking the place of the old guard. The major companies in these sectors will have access to massive amounts of data that will serve as the training harness for the downstream high-tech firms in AI and robotics.
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