"Entrepreneurship is the way to get the most out of life"

When Natural Farm Fresh’s founder Nay Oo was first introduced to solar dryer domes,

Interview with Rockstart Impact mentor Robert van Dortmond

Ten Nepalese companies started the Rockstart Impact programme this week. Mentor Robert van Dortmond cannot wait to start working with them. “I thoroughly enjoy mentoring Nepalese entrepreneurs, I hope to be a mentor for a long time to come.”

Rockstart veteran

Robert van Dortmond (67) believes that entrepreneurship is the way to get the most out of life. That’s why the former partner of Swiss executive search firm EgonZehnder got involved with the Dutch startup community over 15 years ago. He became an active investor and mentor of a number of startups. He gave workshops on Lean Startup method, Business Model Canvas and Team and Leadership at the University of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and he joined Rockstart in its early days. Van Dortmond: “As soon as I heard that Rockstart would launch an impact programme with One to Watch in Nepal, I knew I wanted to be part of that as well.”

Eager to learn

That was back in 2014. “The first Rockstart Impact programme was a great experience. I realized that I could not come from the Netherlands and tell  Nepalese entrepreneurs how they should run their businesses in Nepal. The culture is just too different. However, I believed that some practical tools that I was teaching in Amsterdam could be of value to them. That turned out to be true. I was surprised to see their eagerness to learn. Honestly, that is not always the case with students or startup teams that I coach in the Netherlands.”

Pitch training

The 10 mentors who are involved with the Rockstart Impact program each guide a number of entrepreneurs. The mentors work intensively together with these companies during the first week of the programme in Kathmandu and continue their support via bi-weekly Skype sessions. “When Demo Day was coming up at the end of the first programme, we realized that many entrepreneurs had terrible investment decks and needed help with their pitches. So I worked closely with all teams to improve that and make sure they would present their investment case properly to Nepalese and Dutch investors. Since then, I have given pitch training at the end of each programme.”

Selection

Van Dortmond is looking forward to meet the new batch of Rockstart companies next week. The selection procedure only just finished, says Victoria Ous, who replaced Simon Matthijsen as director of Rockstart Impact. “We had over 200 applicants this year,” Ous says. “We engaged the One to Watch investment team closely in the selection process as the Rockstart companies are potential investee companies for One to Watch. Their business and financial analysts supported us during the interviews with the last 30 candidates and they joined us on our visits to the final 15 companies.”

Mature companies

The 10 companies that were selected come from a variety of sectors: a floriculture company, a coffee exporter, a taxi operator, a strawberry farm, a cookie factory and a banana plantation are among the participants. Ous: “We have selected more mature Nepalese SME’s than last year. However, we think that these companies can still benefit enormously from the Rockstart Impact programme. However, some companies who did not make it through our selection process were already too mature. If companies are already investment ready, it does not make sense to select them for our programme.”

he recognized its potential to contribute to Myanmar’s agricultural value chain and became a distribution and installation partner for the technology.

“If the country does not invest in value-added processing, we will have to keep using imported products that are more expensive, even when we have the raw materials to make these products ourselves,” said Nay Oo. Each year, 35% of fruits and vegetables harvested in Myanmar are wasted due to a lack of post harvesting technology.

Natural Farm Fresh’s ambition to improve the local agricultural value chain with its solar dryers and provide aflatoxin-free spices for consumers under the brand U Sat Gyi (Mr. Spicy) was what led One to Watch Myanmar to include Natural Farm Fresh in its first accelerator cohort. Over a year after successfully pitching at the 2018 Demo Day and receiving initial investment interest from Emerging Markets Entrepreneurs, the company secured a six-figure investment from the early stage VC firm.

When asked about the investment process, Nay Oo emphasized, “Trust is very important. You need to build a relationship of trust between the investor and the investee.” Despite EME’s portfolio being heavily focused on tech platforms and services, Nay Oo found the VC firm to be trustworthy and saw that his investors were bringing more to the table than investment capital; EME also fills the business and network gaps of his company.

Nay Oo added that one of the main challenges for local entrepreneurs seeking investments is the negative perception many investors hold on Myanmar’s political and economic situation. “Myanmar is one of the last frontiers. Investing now can give investors the first-mover advantage, but they will need to be more persistent and patient.”

With an investment secured, Nay Oo is currently working on engaging over 80 new contract farmers in Rakhine State and to expand the Mr. Spicy brand to export markets. Natural Farm Fresh will also be developing two additional brands, one to distribute its aflatoxin-free spices to consumers at the bottom-of-the-pyramid and another to launch solar dried fish products.