At SEIF, we are always excited to hear from entrepreneurs after their participation in the Tech for Impact Awards. Today, we give the word to Clémentine Chambon, CTO & Co-Founder at Oorja, who was granted the Awards for Scalable solution from SEIF in 2021.
Out of the many other support programs in the ecosystem, why did you apply specifically to the SEIF Awards?
CC: We applied to the SEIF Tech for Impact Award because of the unique opportunity it offers in terms of gaining international visibility. Most competitions tend to focus on novel technologies, even if they are still under development in the lab and will only impact the real world in several years’ time. In contrast, the SEIF Tech for Impact Awards recognises any tech-enabled solution (which could use existing technology) that leads to impact. By being shortlisted by SEIF, we would be able to showcase our unique and inclusive business model among sustainability and business leaders. Secondly, the focus of the award was on entrepreneurs making innovative use of technologies to contribute to the UN SDGs. Our solution was a right fit for the award due to its direct and measurable impact on smallholder farmers and its alignment with 5 of the UN SDGs.
Would you recommend other impact tech start-ups to apply for the SEIF Awards? And why?
CC: We are delighted to have received the SEIF Tech for Impact Award and would recommend other tech-driven or tech-enabled entrepreneurs apply for this amazing opportunity! Another aspect of the application process that we appreciated was the feedback provided by the jury at several stages, which is rare. We feel the SEIF platform is especially suited to early stage start-ups who can leverage the expertise of the jury to pivot or scale their innovative solution and create a bigger and bolder impact. We would also recommend it to founders who are currently fund-raising, as the SEIF network can help you gain visibility among international impact investors.
Is there any advice you received from the jury and/or corporate partner that you found has helped you in reaching new milestones? Can you tell us more about it?
CC: Yes, we were grateful to have received feedback for our innovative customer-centric business model on a few aspects. For instance, we were advised to emphasise our unique selling point (USP) for future pitches and also to bring more clarity on our scale-up plan and how we will manage different stakeholders, as our solution is quite capital-intensive. We incorporated the feedback by revising our pitch deck and brought this emphasis during our conversations with potential investors as well. We have grown a lot in the six months since receiving the SEIF Scalable Solutions Award. We have nearly doubled our team size from 18 to 30 people and have tripled the installed solar project capacity. We are really determined to take our inclusive solutions further and deepen the impact by adding other farmer-centric services in 2022.
How has the management of the Covid crisis in India affected Oorja’s processes?
CC: The COVID pandemic in India affected Oorja a lot, especially during the second lockdown in spring 2021. Several of our team members fell sick and it was a stressful time. We were all very worried about family and friends and how the country’s weak health infrastructure would cope with so many cases. The sudden surge in COVID-19 cases resulted in lockdowns in our operational districts. There was a disruption to supply chains which resulted in some delays in equipment delivery, which in turn delayed the implementation of new projects a little. The pandemic has also impacted migrant labourers, many of whom came back to villages and have decided to stay, creating an urgent need for more job creation in rural areas. Our customers faced difficulty in selling their crops and their non-farm income sources have been affected, so they sometimes face cash crunches. We reacted by offering a 15-day credit period to all Oorja customers to help them pay for essential farming services. We were actually able to continue providing irrigation and milling throughout the entire period, and our ground staff ensured high-quality customer service and other support to farmers during this unprecedented crisis. The pandemic has forced us all to adapt to a new reality by devising solutions, adopting technology and improving operations processes, and it has given us ideas about using digital technology to strengthen the food system to benefit smallholders – to be continued!