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ICT for agriculture, a review of Ensibuuko’s incubation

Ensibuuko is a web and mobile application that enables savings and credit cooperative societies (SACCOs) of smallholder  rural farmers mobilise savings, receive and disburse loans easily and quickly using SMS and Mobile money.

Ensibuuko is working to improve financial inclusion for rural smallholder farmers in Uganda by using an ICT-mobile solution to enable quick, convenient and secure transfer of finances amongst Savings and Credit Cooperative Societies (SACCOS)


For the last six months, Outbox has been providing office space, business advisory and network access to Ensibuuko as part of it’s support to the winners of the ICT4Ag hackathon, initiated by the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

As such, we would like to share our learnings from supporting Ensibuuko



We used an “office hours” approach, which is one to one mentoring sessions at-least once every two weeks.

During these meetings, the team would meet with a coach at Outbox in order to review progress made, insights developed and determine what needs course correction and what should be optimized.



2.1 Customer discovery

Use of Human Centered Design tools developed by IDEO to guide and enable the team fully understand and validate the problem they are solving.

The team successfully carried out interviews with up-to 20 SACCOS and 70 households. They identified that the top 3 problems facing smallholder rural farmers within SACCOS with regards to savings and loans are:

- High costs of transport to SACCO Meetings and the nearest financial institutions in the areas

- Manual based methods of tracking SACCO savings which leads to loss of records

- Lack of visibility on SACCO account standings

2.2 UI/UX

Improving the look of the website to reflect the value hypothesis of the start-up. Prior to joining the incubation program, Ensibuuko’s website was still wanting.  We linked Ensibuuko to a UI/UX resident designer at Outbox to assist them with regards to the communication on their website and general online presence.

2.3 Minimum Viable product (MVP) to test our assumptions

Based on the learnings from the discovery phase, Ensibuuko then set out to develop a Minimum viable product to test their value hypothesis with potential customers.

The prototype was meant to test the following:

a. Giving smallholder rural farmers low interest loans through their SACCOS using a mobile phone will incentivize them to pay back their loans using the their mobile.

b. Sending smallholder farmers  SMS updates fortnightly about their savings with SACCOS will prompt them to make further mobile inquiries about their account status with a SACCO

c. Working with SACCO Owners as agents to distribute interest  low interest loans to their members will incentivize them to sign-up and pay for the Ensibuuko platform to manage the fiances of their SACCOS

2.4 Raise funding (in the form of grants or investment) to acquire key resources and fund key activities of the start-up.

We introduced Ensibuuko to platforms that would create more visibility for them and engage them with potential investors and partners. In this regard, Ensibuuko participated at the  SeedStars world Kampala  2014 where they were first runners up.

They also took part in Pivot East 2014 competition, competing in the finance category and becoming one of 25 teams to compete in the finals. Since participating at these events, Ensibuuko has attracted a lot of potential collaborators, partners and investors, including Invested Development and nfrnds that are lead players in the ICT space. Even though no real collaboration has occured yet, a lot of progress is being made that could eventually materialize. Ensibuuko has also been able to learn substantially from these potential partners.



3.1 Testing Hypothesis with SACCO Members

Ensibuuko was able to raise up-to USD 20,000 between Feb and April on the Kiva platform for 16 of it’s modal farmers to test out the first hypothesis, the disbursement of loans using a mobile phone in order to incentivize them to use mobile phones to make loan repayments.

However, because of the need for affordable finance, Kiva has extended more $30,000 to finance more under-financed farmers. Kiva partnership with Ensibuuko has mothered Ensibuuko agriloan project that is focusing on financing unbanked farmers through mobile.

3.2 Improving customer relationships with smallholder rural farmers

A partnership was formed with Mkopa, a provider of solar energy items. Ensibuuko is able to distribute this to their members.  Between the period of june and August 2014, 300 smallholder farmers have accessed solar kit on pay go arrangement and expect to reach 400 by the end of this year. Ensibuuko now has a healthy community of 2300 farmers.

To further strengthen its relation with smallholder rural farmers, Ensibuuko has developed two initiatives;

1. Food For Fees - an arrangement which enables farmers to trade their harvest or food with school and converted into school fees.

2. Food For Charity - Feeding the unfed - it intends to bring more farmers on board and be part of the solution building. At every end of the month, food will be collected from farmers  under Ensibuuko umbrella. The food will be given to orphanage homes such as Watoto charity homes. Besides the impact that comes with it, the food for charity is also a marketing channel that Ensibuuko shall leverage on to speak more about what we do and getting more stakeholders and farmers on board rapidly.  


3.3. Revenue to employ full time staff - a key resource


For the last one month, Ensibuuko can now comfortably employ it’s founders full-time through money generated from other services offered to farmers for example linking them to buyers.


3.4 Investment Pipeline to acquire seed funding


From it’s engagement at various forum and other contacts developed from the incubation, Ensibuuko is now in negotiation deals with up-to 3 potential investors, with an opportunity to raise up-to USD 260,000. As such, the pipeline is looking healthy





4.1  Validating product-market fit has been slow


When using lean methodology, you are supposed to fail fast and fail cheap. However, the slow release of features within the MVP of Ensibuuko has delayed validation of product-market fit.


4.2  Focus on Customer relationships than validating value hypothesis first


The Ensibuuko team has been really great at maintaining customer relationships, linking them with potential buyers of their produce, enabling them access affordable solar lights etc as mentioned earlier.


The challenge with this is that validating the value hypothesis, which should normally start first within a startup has now taken longer than needed.



Outbox is working with Ensibuuko to design better strategies to these challenges




In our opinion, if Ensibuuko were to fail or stall, it would be because of product risk because of the long release cycles of features required to inform learning.




6.1 Developing MVP to fully test out value hypothesis

Over the next 3 months, Ensibuuko will continue to build features into their Minimum Viable product that would enable them further test value hypothesis a, b and c above


6.2 Recruit SACCOS in Northern and Central Uganda

Ensibuuko will continue to recruit up-to 5 SACCOS in northern Uganda and 5 others in central Uganda to test out it’s minimum viable product.


6.3 Provide access to solar items for another 100 farmers

Ensibuuko plans to continue growing its relations with customers and as such, will target to provide another 100 solar items to smallholder rural farmers  in the central region.




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