MimosaTEK, a Vietnamese agtech startup providing data, decision support, and remote control capabilities through sensors and a cloud platform, recently won the Vietnamese round of Seedstars World competition. The startup will now continue on to represent its home country at the Seedstars Summit in Switzerland where it will compete for up to $1 million in equity investment. Taking place in March 2017, the week-long training program will provide MimosaTEK with opportunities to meet investors and mentors from around the globe. The last day of the event will include a pitch event with the $1 million investment on the line.
Over 70 companies competed to be Vietnam’s winning startup. Founded in 2014, MimosaTEK has garnered recognition as a graduate of the Founder Institute franchise in Vietnam and as the winner of the IDG Ventures and Samsung-backed Go Live! Vietnam Venture Cup contest in Ho Chi Minh City last year where it won a $15,000 grant.
The Vietnamese competition round was supported by 500 Startups and local community builders including Platform5, VietYouth Entrepreneurs, Egg Agency, SHIELD, HATCH! and BCA Studio. The 2016 edition of Seedstars World kicked off on May 23 in the Philippines where P2P marketplace Acudeen Technologies took the win. Its next stop will be Seoul at Startup Alliance.
AgFunderNews recently spoke with Nam Dang, co-founder and strategy director for MimosaTEK, about the startup, the recent win, and the current state of the broader Vietnamese agtech sector.
How did MimosaTEK get started?
MimosaTEK was founded by Tri Nguyen – CISCO engineer who has a strong passion for agriculture and creating big impact on the society. When he was CEO of Saigon CTT and CTO of DTS, a moving force told him that it was time to move to a new direction. He then left the company and started his own strawberry farm in Dalat. The farm was not successful but it taught Tri that farmers like him did not know enough about the crops, there should be a better way farmers can communicate with the crops and practice farming in completely different ways. He then researched about the Internet of Things concept and believed that it could be the answer. Tri and colleagues built the first prototype (which was very simple then) and tested it on a few customers. The products were not perfect but the feedback from the customers were positive. This made the team believe that the idea would be able to help millions of farmers and kicked off the MimosaTEK journey.
Are there many other IoT technologies for agriculture in Vietnam?
IoT for agriculture is quite new in Vietnam. We are the first mover who actually has a commercialized product. We have spotted a few players in the field of aquaculture and livestock, most of whom are in the idea or prototype stage.
Why do Vietnamese farmers need the technology that MimosaTEK offers?
Agriculture in Vietnam is super inefficient. Productivity is among the lowest in Asia. Waste is everywhere — more than 50% of water is wasted as a result of over-irrigation, up to 60% of the fertilizer is not absorbed by the crops which run off and destroy the environment, 20%-30% of the crops are lost due to pests and diseases, and over $700 million is lost in export opportunity because of overusing pesticides and chemicals. All of this is caused by the fact that farmers do not have data about the demands & health conditions of the crops, and therefore cannot tailor their services to meet their needs.
We let the farmers do farming in a different way by helping them understand the specific needs of the plants in real-time and give them advice to service the crops in order to optimize farm operation. We deliver solid value on the farms we deployed in terms of yield enhancement, water and fertilizer saving.
What are some of the challenges that Vietnamese farmers face?
Farms in Vietnam are typically less than five hectares. Small farms are constrained by several factors: small budget, inadequate infrastructure, lower technology adoption. It is necessary for a technology maker like us to offer a full solution that delivers solid results at an affordable cost. At the same time, we need to organize awareness development sessions to switch them into modern farming practices. In agriculture, if you want to go fast, you must be patient.
What’s the startup scene like in Vietnam? How does it compare to other countries/regions?
It is booming in Vietnam. Less than a year ago no one had a definition for “startup ecosystem”. But now, the startup ecosystem is quite mature with several VCs, angel groups, accelerators, incubators, government fund, developers, SME, institutions, etc. With the growth of the ecosystem, the startups have become more seasoned, well-trained, and ready-to-go to market. Most startups look forward to becoming regional players instead of catering the local market as in the old school. Regional VCs look at Vietnam as a strategic investment opportunity which make it much more competitive.
How would you like to see agriculture technology develop in Vietnam during the coming years?
Agriculture is a big thing in Vietnam accounting for more than 25% of the nation’s GDP. There have not been enough innovations to solve the incumbent issues. In fact, we cannot wait for innovators in other countries come and solve our problem. We have to do it ourselves and do it now. We believe in the potential of agriculture technology market and trust that local startups will lead the changes.
How are you feeling about the upcoming Seedstars Summit in Switzerland next year? How will you prepare?
I feel lucky and surprised as I did not think that we could win. All the other startups were excellent and they all pitched really well. The competition in Switzerland is a great opportunity to tell our story and reach out to international partners. It will be tough. However, we won’t forget that our real battle is on the business side. We try our best to win the pitch, not by saying but by proving that our solutions can help millions of farmers globally, and we have great traction with a right business model.
Are you an agtech startup in Vietnam, an accelerator/incubator focusing on the region, or an investor with ties to the country? We want to hear from you! Send an email to [email protected] or tweet me @lo_manning.