The shocking fact that in Egypt, an average of 45% of crops are lost before hitting store shelves drove Farah Emara and her brother Omar to set up FreshSource, the region’s first tech-enabled agri-platform.
With ambitious plans to be the leading distributer of fresh fruits and vegetables, Farah has overcome incredible resistance but is driven by her passion to empower smallholder farmers and support one of the most undeserved communities in the economy.
Back in October, FreshSource was awarded first place at Womentum 2019, a women in tech accelerator by Womena in partnership with Standard Chartered focused on empowering and driving growth for the top regional female-led tech startups.
Can you tell me about Fresh Source and how and why you set it up?
FreshSource is disrupting the Egyptian agriculture industry by streamlining the value chain through technology. We are the region’s first platform for fresh fruits and vegetables, connecting farms to businesses and providing last-mile solutions. My brother and co-founder, Omar and I launched FreshSource in January 2019. As the region’s first tech-enabled agri-platform we have a lot of work to pave the way and disrupt this industry.
Omar and I grew up in the Agriculture industry and it was always a passion of ours. At the time I was working in P&G and Omar was in London. I had a background in FMCG and Omar in Finance and Technology in Goldman Sachs London. We always knew that we wanted to start something that will have an impact on our country. We started researching the industry and uncovered immense inefficiencies that exist in the value chain. Through our research we found that an average of 45% of crops are lost before hitting store shelves due to poor harvesting, transportation and storage.
With an exponentially growing population, greater stress is being placed on food security. Farmers are not getting their fair cut due to middlemen and businesses are overpaying for their crops making prices extremely high for the end-consumer. We met with Dr Khaled Ismail, our early investor and he truly believed in our vision from the start. So, we launched FreshSource to revolutionize agriculture in Egypt and transform it through technology.
You were recently awarded a financial prize as part of the Standard Chartered and Womena initiative, how did this impact your business and how important for start-ups to have investment from accelerators or businesses?
We were so happy to be awarded the first prize by Standard Chartered Women in Tech program, not only were we able to strategically invest this amount to further develop our business, but it is also a great testament to our hard work and really shows that others believe in our mission.
As a ‘disrupter’ business have you encountered any challenges from the existing ‘conventional’ methods of business?
The use of technology to disrupt the agricultural industry is still very novice in Egypt and this is reflected in the resistance we see with our different stakeholders. However, we know the impact that this can have on the country’s food security and on the lives of all the farmers, so we just keep pushing through.
Is the technology possible in the UAE?
This technology aims to streamline the agriculture value chain and its uses can be applied to different countries such as the UAE.
What would you like to see more happening here in the UAE/Middle East/North Africa to enable more start-ups to succeed?
I believe that there is a lack of investment in women-led businesses, while many investment firms claim that they do support women the facts speak otherwise. In such a male dominated region many of the investors tend to have more confidence in male led start-ups which is extremely heart-breaking. That is why programs such as Womena and Standard Chartered are so important to raise awareness to this issue.
The pandemic has hit many start-ups hard. What does a post COVID world look like in terms of businesses, jobs and perhaps a new world focus?
Of course, the pandemic has hit many businesses and sadly some will cease to exist. For FreshSource, it will mean reassessing how the team can come together and still be productive whilst respecting social distancing protocols.
What are your future plans for Fresh Source?
FreshSource will be the leading distributor of fresh fruits and vegetables in the region. We aim to do this by empowering smallholder farmers, one of the most underserved communities in our economy.
Why do you think SDG#5 Gender Parity is so important can you share any experiences of this?
As I mentioned earlier, women, much like men, build great businesses however, the resources that are needed to further propel this business such as investment are quite rare due to a lack of confidence in women entrepreneurs in general. Most of these decisions I believe are even done subconsciously by investors and they are not aware of the true reasons underlying reasons.
What challenges have you faced as a woman in business?
I have faced incredible resistance from men, especially that Agriculture is quite a male dominated industry. At the start, these negative comments used to really bring me down, however, as FreshSource develops and with the support of my partner and brother, Omar, I became a lot more confident.
What is the best advice you have ever received when starting out on your career path?
“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.” – Colin Powell
An idea, no matter how unique or great it is, is just an idea. Determination, perseverance and transforming your setbacks into comebacks is what will build a truly successful enterprise. We work hard to prepare our team and our company for exponential growth and always make data driven decisions for our strategies. We are building a strong team with a solid foundation and processes in place that will enable us to transform the Egyptian agriculture industry.