This month, we are featuring Simon Schwall, CEO of OKO Finance.
OKO provides index insurance and other farming-related services to smallholder farmers in emerging countries. Using state of the art technologies to monitor rainfall and crop evolution, a direct interface with farmers and a unique distribution network, OKO protects farmers and unlocks their access to financing.
OKO has partnered with Allianz Africa and Orange Mali to reach out to the smallholder farmers.
What is OKO's story?
Working in the Telecommunications industry for many years, I have witnessed many incredible solutions that made people's life easier. This is especially true in emerging markets were unconnected and unbanked populations are suddenly able to communicate and transact with the whole world. But one large part of the population is often forgotten: the farmers. They work hard everyday to feed their community (and often us as well) and yet a single drought can destroy their live.Knowing that technologies were available, such as earth observation via satellites and mobile payment, I decided to create an insurance service that automatically helps farmers when we identify a drought or a flood in their area.
Tell us about the technology!
We use simple technologies and re-purpose them. For example we use SMS to create a text-based menu that anyone can access, even from a feature phone. And we use weather data, that is available globally, to predict risks of adverse weather events. OKO is more about using existing technologies in an innovative way than creating a brand new technology, although we design proprietary algorithms to verify claims. Check out the demo!
What is your motivation for doing what you do?
We live in an amazing time which has no more physical borders. But it also makes it difficult to ignore the large challenges that we face as humanity. So it only makes sense to me to use the technology for purposes that are meaningful. Creating an app to get your food delivered 5 minutes quicker is nice. But creating a service that can improve the life of millions significantly is far more rewarding.
What is your tip for future entrepreneurs of technology for development?
Find the right crowd. As an "impact" entrepreneur not many will understand your challenges. You will never fully fit in the traditional start-up business crowd, nor in the development / NGO sphere. Try to find advisors who really understand the specificities of your markets and the entrepreneurs that are facing the same issues as you.
What would you say to a FinTech entrepreneur about the opportunities of FinTech in emerging markets?
Emerging markets are very exciting for financial services. Entire countries are leapfrogging from cash to mobile payment, or even straight to crypto-currencies. While technology can marginally improve the financial systems in Western markets, it can unlock gigantic opportunities in the global South. So give yourself some time to think how your solution could be used by unbanked or under-banked customers: you might find an interesting market opportunity.
Read more about OKO, the latest updates, and the many prizes and grants they won including Seedstars World Challenge and Grant Challenge from the Israel Innovation Authority.
Thank you Simon for this inspiring story! Good luck in accomplishing your great mission!