SunCulture Annual Letter 2017
Dear SunCulture Supporters,
Usually, I write this letter in late April or early May. This year I waited to see how the world’s biggest superpower would fall on the issue of climate change. The decision has been made and now, more than ever, we need to step up to protect the future of our planet.
Around the world, 500 million smallholder farmers provide us with most of the food that we eat every day. This year, we witnessed firsthand the impact that climate change can have on these farmers — in East Africa, a devastating drought crippled agricultural livelihoods and placed 20 million people at risk of starvation.
At SunCulture, our mission is twofold — to run a successful and profitable business, and to put more money in farmers’ pockets in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way. Skeptics and naysayers claim that it’s impossible to make money, help people, and protect the environment at the same time, but since Day 1 at SunCulture, we’ve viewed these goals as complementary, not mutually exclusive.
So how does a company make money and do good in the world? We listen to our customers. The best thing that Charlie and I did in the early days of SunCulture was realize that it’s our job to listen to what our customers need and come up with solutions with them and for them.
Our vision to transform the way food is grown, to make it cheaper and easier for farmers to grow food, can only be achieved by working with the people we want to affect, which are our customers. From Day 1, farmers taught us that their challenges are systemic and complicated, rooted in centuries of traditions, and that a solution for them needs to combine access to tools, know-how, and capital. So that’s the solution we developed.
What we did
SunCulture’s current farmers will (annually):
- Save 4,581,600,000 liters of water.
- Save 750,000 liters of diesel fuel.
- Generate 189 megawatt-hours of renewable energy.
- Reduce 828,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions.
- Grow 24,900,000 kilograms of fresh fruits and vegetables (which is enough food to meet the FAO’s minimum required fresh fruits and vegetables consumption for 113,699 people).
- Realize $8,477,880 in savings and increased yields.
2016 was a great year at SunCulture and we’re proud of the numbers above. And beyond the measureable, our team’s been working really hard behind the scenes to set ourselves up for an even better 2017.
We closed our first round of equity financing, and we’re excited that Energy Access Ventures, Partners Group, and a number of angel investors have joined us. Our institutional investors bring diverse management experience, wide geographic reach, and sector specific partners to the table. And our angel investors have years of invaluable experience operating agriculture and energy businesses in emerging markets.
We’ve also partnered with Shell Foundation, an early backer of many emerging market asset financing companies, to pilot our Pay-As-You-Grow financing platform. This means that farmers who couldn’t afford our products and services before will now be able to because we’ll finance them ourselves.
Charlie has been quietly leading a multi-year R&D effort with support from public and private partners, the result of which is a product that will revolutionize the future of farming. We have a big announcement about this on the horizon. Stay tuned.
Equally exciting news hovers on the international front as we plan expansion into new markets. In 2016 we moved from pilot to larger scale partnership with one distribution partner, and we will continue to partner with organizations who have a strong presence in potential countries of interest. Understanding local supply chains and navigating a variety of political climates is complex and difficult work. We are confident that forging strong partnerships will be key to our successful expansion outside Kenya.
We’re proud to announce that we completed Somalia’s largest irrigation project, part of a larger mission to improve the resilience of rural and at risk communities in Somalia. SunCulture is offering our services at a discount to any organization working in humanitarian relief in the region to stave off this ongoing and debilitating drought. Please get in touch directly to learn more or suggest ways to help.
Last, but worth a mention, SunCulture won a number of awards for our work this year. We were recognized by organizations including Forbes 30 Under 30, Bloomberg New Energy Pioneers, the Financial Times, Bloomberg, and the Harvard Business Review.
The future of farming
At the beginning of this letter, I wrote that we have developed a solution with farmers and for farmers, providing them with access to the tools, know-how, and capital they need to much better off.
Now, we want to spread this success worldwide.
We’re focusing on productizing and exporting our unique solution deeper into Kenya and to other markets by lowering technology costs, reducing product installation and delivery times, while simultaneously increasing the amount of information and services we provide. These trends will lead to connectivity — every SunCulture farmer will have a high quality connected experience.
SunCulture will turn a farmer’s system on or off at certain times based on a number data points tracked by sensors, flow meters, and camera technology.
We’ll send our farmers a daily SMS with pump usage information and weather reports along with crop management recommendations, and field agents will stand by for phone or on-farm consultations should a farmer require more information.
In Kenya, where 67% of the population owns a smartphone, farmers will upload photos of their crops and agronomists will give advice on treating common pests and nutrient problems.
We’ll also send notifications to fruit and vegetable traders who have partnered with us when the crops are ready so they can collect the ready produce from the farm.
Our IoT platform will monitor crop health and will apply machine learning to predict the outbreak of pests to streamline the delivery of pest management solutions — this will help make sure that these crops are consistently of high-quality.
And all of this is realistic in the near future. We’re working hard to be able to deliver this high quality plug-and-play experience to any farmer that works with SunCulture, anywhere in the world. And we’re doing this because we understand that the value in what we do does not only lie in the tools, know-how, and capital that we provide to farmers, but in the connected experience that we deliver to them.
The single most important thing driving SunCulture’s success is our team. Thank you for your hard work, your commitment, and your passion. To people joining our future team, you’re joining a group of people who believe that the status quo isn’t good enough, and that we need to make some big changes to protect our planet and the people living on it. We’re counting on you to bring fresh ideas that will help us adapt to this rapidly changing world.
As always, to our family, friends, mentors, and advisors who have stuck by our sides through this journey, thank you for your support, your perspective, and your trust.
What we’re doing is not an easy feat, and the most important lesson that we’ve learned is that with focus and with the right team, everything is possible. Here’s to the future of farming.
July 5, 2017