The Amman Experience
On 2nd of May 2017 I was scheduled to travel to Amman Jordan to participate in the Fincluders Startup Challenge. It was a competition that selected 15 innovative startups playing an active role in the financial inclusion value chain in the Middle East, North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa terrain. The competition was organized by the SANAD Technical Assistance Facility, Oasis500, Silicon Badia, Dash Ventures and ZINC (Zain Innovations Campus). You can read more about the Fincluders Challenge here (http://sanad.fincluders.com)
Well, technically I couldn’t leave on the 2nd of May because my visa wasn’t ready yet. On 3rd May, event organizers informed me that my visa had been processed. I got an electronic version of the visa and flight information at 3pm GMT. Flight was scheduled to take off at 7:45pm GMT. Imagine the horror. I live at a place that is an hour drive to the airport (excluding traffic) so imagine the speed with which I packed my belongings, called my usual cab driver and we sped off to the airport. Welcome traffic. Tick tock tick tock, time was running out as check in has already commenced. Turkish Airline is noted for the prompt closure of the check in counter once check in time elapses.
We finally beat the traffic and arrived just in time to check in. V.I.C.T.O.R.Y!! I can now safely go through departure formalities. Easy breezy. At 7:50pm we were off, connecting through Istanbul to Amman. Well this should be a walk in the park. So I thought! In my haste, i didn’t check the time the connecting flight will leave Istanbul for Amman. I whipped out the flight itinerary to check. OMG!! I arrive at Istanbul at 6am local time and leave 8pm local time. 14 freaking hours of waiting at the airport.
Touchdown 6am Turkey time at Antatuk International Airport. Border Control — Check. Secure an empty seat — check. Scanned for free wifi at the airport. Located one. Connected. Crap!! Enter your phone number to receive passcode. +23324XXXXX. SMS never arrives. Probably a scam or too many people accessing the free wifi. If you needed internet urgently, you had to buy an access card worth $15. Well i’ll count planes taking off and landing instead. $15 can do a whole lot of good back in Ghana.
Sleep- wake up — go to washroom- eat-sleep-wake up — go to washroom. My 14 hour routine. Finally the boarding call for flight TK 629 to Amman, Jordan. Let God be praised!! Located my boarding pass and handed it over to the check in staff. Scanned through my passport and asked “where is visa”? “Here” i said as i handed him the official document in Arabic. “Sit down, wait and we verify”. Oh crap!! Tired of waiting. I watched all the passengers file past me as they had their passports checked. The last man remaining. Everyone was aboard the flight. 30 minutes, no information on the verification. Plane was on the tarmac. Well we’ll all wait. Finally after about 40 minutes, my passport and boarding pass were handed over to me. “Have a safe flight Mr. Francis”. Well i’ll be damned.
Take Off! I can finally catch some much needed sleep. Wrong again! Flight was 3 hours. Before i could catch a shut eye, flight attendant soothingly asked “chicken or beef”? I could eat a horse since I was starving. “Any drinks sir”? “Yeah give me red wine let me soak my tiredness in a little alcohol”.
At 12am local Jordanian time we landed at Queen Alia International Airport. Border Control. Visitors will have to purchase a tourist visa worth 40 JOD (Jordanian Dinar) on arrival. I quickly scanned the exchange rate notification board. $1 = 0.7 JOD. Well that is a mighty currency whooping the dollar.
Passport Control again! I handed over my visa letter and passport to the security officials. ‘Wait there”! Crap! Not waiting again. After back and forth interrogations, I was finally given the visa. Left the airport at 2am local time. No airport pickup so i had to arrange my own transportation. You know what they say about not indulging private taxis whenever you arrive in a foreign country? Well i did. Nice gentleman. We grabbed some ‘Tsai” tea together to ward off the cold (12 degrees celcius) and finally dropped me off at the hotel. Charged 52 JOD. I later found out airport to Hotel cost is 22 JOD. Well at least he bought me tea and kept me company.
Finally slumped to bed at 3am. Had to wake up at 6am because Day 2 of the event was scheduled to start at 9am and all participants were asked to converge at the hotel’s lobby at 7am to be conveyed to the events ground. I had barely slept well in 48 hours. And the Day 2 Event was the pitching day. I had missed Day 1 event which included the mentoring program and pitch practice. I haven’t practiced my pitch deck in months. I haven’t slept well in 48 hours. I was groggy. Set two alarms, one on my phone, the other on my laptop.
At 9am, all 15 startups were seated, ready to pitch to the panel and i was at my yawning best. Binged on caffeine and nicotine to keep me awake. I was #8 to pitch.
All startups had 4 minutes to present their ideas and 4 minutes to answer questions from the jury. I got on stage and told the AgroCenta story. Finished in 3 minutes 15 seconds. Huraay! Questions came in thick and fast. I was prepared.
I could catch some sleep during the panel discussion and the remaining 7 startups pitch. You cannot cheat nature. Sleep will always find you. At 3pm, the winners were set to be announced.
3rd Place winner was Democrane, a UAE based micro insurance startup for low income population
Second place winner was Liwwa which is a Jordanian based startup focusing on marketplace lending to SMEs
My heart skipped a beat whilst we waited for the first place winner to be announced. I heard A G R O C E N T A and i lept out of my seat to receive the coveted prize.
It was an emotional moment. This was definitely the icing on AgroCenta’s cake after many months of active work in the field where we are providing an end-to-end solution for smallholder farmers in the agricultural value chain in Ghana and beyond. We believe this will be enough motivation to keep us going forward.
You can read more about AgroCenta’s activities here (http://www.agrocenta.com) or drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested in learning more about how we plan to transform agriculture using ICT and innovations.