PONICKS is a Tanzanian agri-tech startup that focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture practices in urban areas. The company offers a range of soilless farming solutions, including aquaponics, to help individuals and organizations grow crops and raise fish using limited water and land resources. By utilizing recycled water and providing technical skills and support to its customers, PONICKS is able to promote sustainable agriculture while reducing environmental impact. The company’s tagline “Stay Raw” emphasizes its commitment to organic, environmentally-friendly farming practices. In addition, PONICKS provides training and employment opportunities for local youths, contributing to social and economic development in the communities it serves.
Lugendo explained that Ponicks create a reciprocal link between land-grown vegetables and water animals in a landless area, professionally called aquaponics, i.e., integrating aquaculture and crop cultivation, creating a symbiotic system. Ponicks, according to Lugendo, create a reciprocal link between land-grown vegetables and water animals in a landless area, a process known professionally as aquaponics, which combines aquaculture and crop cultivation to form a symbiotic system. Lugendo shares that the challenge that Ponicks aims to solve is food security. He explains that he discovered that many people needed access to good food during his life in the city. He further explains that good food is available at great expense, and only a few can get it, while most go to get what is left and often needs more quality.
Investing in the Idea
According to Lugendo, Ponicks was a passion-driven idea, so his initial investment was his skills and knowledge. He explains that understanding precisely what he was and wanted to do, enrolling in innovation boot camps and challenges, was simple to see if he could secure some funding for his business. “I have taken part in various innovation challenges, but the Ifakara Innovation Hub (IIH) innovation challenge victory was the key that allowed me to turn my concept into a functional product. Additionally, I participated in the Digital Opportunity Trust Tanzania (DOT)’s Dare 2 Change program, where I excelled and was named a champion. As of today, the funds I received from these challenges are critical to the business,” shared Lugendo.
The Business process for Ponicks
According to Lugendo, the goal was to create organic foods. “But considering the market demand, we resolved to produce systems; ponicks systems. After evaluating my goals, I discovered that using only organic products would not get me there. Lugano explains that developing something applicable was the only way to achieve the set goals. He said there are two kinds of systems: large and small. They aim to develop small systems known as backyard systems, which can be layed and facilitate production without difficulty, even in a small area. Lugendo explains that because the systems are already in place and operational, the rest of the company is now marketing and selling them. However, they also want to start selling the products created by their systems. “So, the way that our business works is that we sell those systems that we are developing, and the second way that we work is that we provide training on how to adapt to this agricultural system that we call organic farming,” he explained. Lugendo says that they design systems based on the customer’s location and preferences, particularly after coming for a site visit and determining how to create a system best suited to your area. Most system design and assembly materials are available locally, with a small amount available abroad, particularly in Kenya. After testing and ensuring the system functions properly, follow the after-sales services to ensure everything runs smoothly.
At Ponicks Tanzania, Lugendo highlights that their competitive edge lies in their unique approach to sustainable agriculture. While there may be some similar businesses, their ability to integrate fish farming into their hydroponic systems sets them apart. Unlike other hydroponic businesses that rely heavily on pesticides and fertilizers to nourish plants, Ponicks Tanzania’s use of fish in the process helps to reduce maintenance costs and provide a natural source of nutrients. This approach allows them to not only produce fresh, healthy and organic vegetables, but also high-quality fish, making them a more comprehensive and sustainable solution for urban farming. Lugendo further states that the experience of interacting with other companies in the innovation ecosystem has been positive since he embarked on his innovation journey. He explains that the more you interact with people and different companies, the better you understand that there are many things you did not know prior to taking your step out.
Challenges, Achievements and final thoughts
Lugendo acknowledges that the financial challenge is something that many startups face. But on his terms, thinking that he knew everything he wanted to do was the biggest drawback that he had to the point that he could not get where he wanted at the time of his convenience. “I can attest that from my experiences, I thought my innovation enthusiasm and technical skills could lead me up the ladder, but I did forget that I needed leadership skills to lead my team and business development skills to at least design a well-stated business model; and, most important financial management skills which he needed to design budgets and manage his business finances at the beginning,” he explains.
Lugendo shares that being able to set up an operational business is the most significant achievement of his business. “You know that things are at least going as you planned when you see people trust in the small thing that you have and support you with something to help you grow; the recognition that I received from Ifakara Innovation Hub (IIH) Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Tanzania did not only showed that I am at least going in the direction, but it also showed me that I have at least acquired some of the skills that I lacked when I started the business.” Lugendo was nominated in two categories at the 2022 Tanzania Emerging Youth Awards (TAYE) and won both.
Lugendo explains that if he and his team want to have mentors, “if we could get people who will be ready to sharpen our knowledge and make us stand out would be more than advantageous to our business.” On the other hand, he shares that they are looking for an investor who would be vital to establishing and setting up their hatchery. “We develop systems, but we have to go and buy the initial product from other farms, which at times they do not have what we need; thus, we find ourselves stacked.” Ponicks’ long-term goal is to make sure that communities, especially in the urban areas, adopt the ways of ponicks and be able to produce organic foods for themselves and, of course, the community that they live in.
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