Foodlocker, Releaf, and Baby Grubz have emerged winners and runner-up, respectively, from the African Development Bank's (AfDB) AgriPitch competition, receiving a total of $70,000.

Out of the 25 finalists shortlisted for the AgriPitch competition, six of whom were Nigerian startups, Foodlocker emerged winner in the mature startups category and received $40,000. Releaf received $20,000 as the winner of the early startups category. Baby Grubz was the runner-up in the women-empowered businesses and it received $10,000.

While Kenyan Mhogo Foods was the winner of the women-empowered businesses category and received $20,000, Côte d’Ivoire's Lono and Ugandan Bringo Fresh were the runners-up in the mature startups and early startups categories. They each received $20,000 and $10,000, respectively.

In all, winners and runners-up of the AgriPitch competition received a total of $120,000. In addition to the prize money and post-competition mentoring, the AgriPitch winners will be invited to the African Youth Agripreneurs Forum (AYAF) online DealRoom where they would be connected to global investors.

The AgriPitch competition is part of the fourth edition of the AYAF, which is an annual event organised by the AfDB's Enable Youth Programme. The theme of this year is: Driving Sustainable Nutrition and Gender Inclusivity in Africa's Agri-Food Systems: Youth Agripreneurs Seize the Decade.

The AgriPitch competition, which was held on November 17, offered young entrepreneurs in Africa’s agricultural sector the opportunity to pitch their agribusiness proposals to a panel of experts and investors who selected winners in "early startups", "mature startups", and "women-empowered businesses" categories.

"I was so excited when I heard my name [called]", said Elizabeth Gikebe, founder of Mhogo Foods in Kenya, who won the women-empowered businesses category $20,000 prize. Gikebe said she had entered Mhogo Foods — a company that adds value to cassava production by processing the tubers into gluten-free flour, cassava snacks and animal feeds – into the competition in 2018 and again in 2019 without success. "I'm glad I didn’t give up", Gikebe said.

"With a lot of persistence, you can get what you are looking for. It showed me that everything has its time".

Due to the global pandemic, this year's AgriPitch competition was held virtually. And more than 2,500 applications and 605 proposals from 30 countries were shortlisted down to 25 finalists from 12 countries. The finalists qualified for a two-week business development boot camp, and then a select top nine AgriPitch competitors made their final pitches to an online panel of judges and investors.

"To be chosen from such a qualified list of businesses is always exciting", said Ikenna Nzewi, CEO of Releaf, the early startups category winner. Releaf is a food pre-processing technology company. Started by Nigerian-American graduates from MIT, Yale, and Duke universities who set up shop in Uyo, Nigeria, Releaf plans to save the $20,000 competition prize for future investment.

"We are very confident about the work that we are doing to catalyse industrialization in food processing. It is excellent to see the African Development Bank with its High 5s focus – one of them being industrialization – to also be supporting us", Nzewi added.

The winner of the $40,000 mature startups category prize, Foodlocker CEO Femi Aiki, said the seed funding provides "a lot of fuel for the road" for his business. Foodlocker supports smallholder farmers with technologies for the production of foods such as tomatoes and chicken.

Aiki said one of the major areas where Foodlocker needs support is working capital. “Now we can afford to buy more inputs. We can now afford to bring on board more experts in those value chains who can support smallholder farmers more remotely…That money will support the company to get results", he added.

According to the Coordinator of the AfDB’s Enable Youth Programme responsible for the AgriPitch competition, Edson Mpyisi, The Bank’s Enable Youth Program aims to empower youth at each stage of the agribusiness value chain by harnessing new and innovative skills, technologies and financing approaches, so that the youth can establish viable and profitable small and medium-sized enterprises.

In Africa, small and medium-sized enterprises account for 90% of all businesses and create 70% of all the jobs and are the drivers of economic growth and long-term sustainability.

"Through the AgriPitch competition, the Bank is committed to supporting youth who are ambitious, creative, technology-savvy, and who have an entrepreneurial spirit to establish profitable small and medium-sized enterprises for a prosperous and inclusive Africa", Mpyisi said.

The year's AYAF and AgriPitch competition were organised in collaboration with partners such as United Nations Women, African Leaders for Nutrition, and the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA) initiative.