Highline Beta discusses the upsurge of BanQu with CEO Ashish Gadnis.
Ashish Gadnis is the Co-Founder and CEO at BanQu Inc. – a software company that’s helping unbanked populations in developing countries to build financial identities through Blockchain technology. The platform – which is now being used in 15 countries worldwide – allows people traditionally cut off from banking systems, like small-scale farmers, to create a financial “passport” and digitally verify and build the history of their transactions in the global supply chain.
The startup is ambitious and growing fast. Since joining Anheuser-Busch InBev’s 100+ Sustainability Accelerator powered by Highline Beta – the company has achieved an impressive 100% growth rate (onboarding 300,000 last-mile-first-mile – up from 3000 in 2017), and developed partnerships with big players like Nestle, IDB, RSM Spain and Japan Tobacco.
We sat down with Ashish to talk about how the program helped accelerate BanQu’s growth, and why this unique corporate-startup innovation model works.
Can you tell us a bit about why you started BanQu? What problem do you exist to solve?
I’ve always liked solving hard problems, so when I sold my last company in 2012, I decided I wanted to do something about poverty. I went to Congo as a volunteer and started working with farmers on a social enterprise. In 2014, one of the farmers wanted to open a bank account. Even though she had ID cards and a good harvest, the local bank turned her away. I later learned that this happens a lot. The farmer had been growing crops for 3 years, but had no way to prove the record of her business or that the harvest was even her own. No bank would give her a loan.
That was an eye-opening moment for me. I realized there’s a fundamental problem in the global economy: millions of people live and work in global supply chains, but they’re completely invisible. They work for global brands yet live in poverty. I wanted to do something about it.
How did you solve this problem?
After about a year of searching for a solution, I decided to start a software company with a mission to create supply chain visibility and help people who have been refused financial services get banked.
BanQu uses Blockchain technology to track and trace products from source to distribution. The platform automatically records the history of transactions and provides useful crop data throughout every stage of the supply chain. This gives the farmer a history of their business and gives the company valuable information to reduce supply chain risk, improve forecasting, manage their assets, etc. Through AB InBev and the 100+ Sustainability Accelerator, we’ve been able to expand the program and integrate payments to the farmer’s mobile phones. Now we’re seeing banks come around because they trust the supply chain data.
What made the 100+ Accelerator program interesting to you? What made you click “apply” and what did you expect from the experience, going in?
There are a few reasons why we joined 100+ Accelerator. One is that we saw it as a really different program from what we’d ever seen before. AB InBev wanted us to go into the field immediately. When we arrived, they said, “Hey, we have farmers in Uganda, why don’t you go work with them?” Most accelerators aren’t like this – they really focused on getting us to pilot fast.
Another reason was the incredible group of companies they put together to work with us. AB InBev connected us with a company that provides land information to farmers in India. Since January, we’ve been running live with 1100 barley farmers to test and learn from our work.
How did the program work out for you? What were some of the outcomes you can share?
Through our work in the accelerator, we had the opportunity to get the word out about our technology. Other companies started approaching us about applications of our software not just in farming, but in recycling as well. Over the course of 10 months, we launched projects in Uganda, India and Zambia – all thanks to the accelerator. We gained so much exposure for our work that in mid-2019, ZX Ventures invested in BanQu. That’s an amazing outcome.
How has your growth trajectory changed since going through the 100+ Accelerator program? What are your goals for the future?
We’ve been growing steadily over the last four years. In 2017, we had about 3,000 farmers connected through our technology, and by the end of 2019 the number had grown to 300,000 last-mile-first-mile beneficiaries.
Because of our work with AB InBev, we are able to win over other clients as well. We now work with huge players like Nestle and Japan Tobacco. We’ve tripled our growth in the past three years. Our goal is to enable 100 million people out of extreme poverty and get that same rate of growth on the revenue side. AB InBev really opened the door and it’s made a world of difference.
BanQu is already working with at least 1 or 2 startups from the first 100+ cohort, and is now talking to a company from this year’s cohort. Can you tell us more about these new partnerships and connections?
That’s right. Two companies have already connected with us from the new cohort. Nomo Waste, a waste management and recycling solutions company, and OKO, a weather index insurance for farmers in emerging markets.
We’re also working with Kisan Hub, an agricultural intelligence platform that does land mapping in India. When we went live there, we integrated our supply chain data with Kisan Hub to help farmers get better access and information on their crop life cycle. This helps both ABI and the farmers. It’s been a really successful partnership. We’ll be working together again this March.
What is your relationship with AB InBev like now?
Working with AB InBev has been truly amazing. They’ve connected us with micro-finance, agriculture and water management companies across the globe. Recently, we went to the UN together to talk about sustainability. It was a huge deal when in Davos AB InBev and their leadership team highlighted our work. If it weren’t for AB InBev, we wouldn’t be here today.
What role has Highline Beta played in helping your company grow and move forward?
Highline Beta does amazing work with social media. You promote us and I love that! More importantly, we’ve been introduced to other startups and received really solid feedback from Ben Yoskovitz and his Highline Beta team about how we should position BanQu with new investors. For our UN presentation, he also helped us tell our story effectively in 7 minutes. The connection and feedback is where we’ve found a ton of value.
We’re seeing a real ripple effect from the work Highline Beta does and I’m grateful for the opportunities that 100+ accelerator with AB InBev opened for us, everyday.—Ashish Gadnis, CEO at BanQu Inc
Highline Beta is much more than a traditional VC. You do incredible work and you’re supporting great companies with your model, which is focused on helping everyone succeed.
Would you recommend the 100+ Accelerator program to other startups and corporations?
Absolutely. We were live in 6 countries before joining 100+, now we’re live in 15. Nestle just launched a program with us in Guatemala, JTI has rolled us out in Tanzania, Brazil, Malawi and Zambia. We’re seeing a real ripple effect from the work Highline Beta does and I’m grateful for the opportunities that 100+ Accelerator with AB InBev opened for us everyday.