Sistema Biobolsa, a venture registered with Inclusive Business Accelerator, recently closed a round with three global impact investors, among them Factor[e] Ventures. We spoke to Esther Altorfer, Finance Director, to get a better idea of their key success factors.
How did you prepare for fundraising/investment?
We achieved our first profit in 2014, demonstrating that we had created a solid, growing and profitable business model with a clear added value for smallholder farmers.We rejected several investment opportunities that were presented to us, in order to maintain our independence and prove that we were working on a sustainable technology and business model. Having a clear business and impact case allowed us to reopen conversations with impact investors in a position of strength and no urgent need for cash. Throughout the due diligence process, we focused as much on the financial as on the technical assistance our future impact investors could provide. We developed an innovative and patient hybrid revenue share and convertible debt investment tool that takes our specific business cycles into consideration. We are proud to say we were able to choose our investors as much as they have chosen us!
What obstacles have you run into?
Sistema Biobolsa has been disruptive in the biogas space, being the first to prove a modular biogas system in the market, and creating the first functional business model to serve biogas markets. In the majority of the markets where we work, the only alternative is the status quo of lacking waste treatment systems, fossil fuels, biomass and chemical fertilizers. Our turnkey product offering, aesthetic design, and efficient and reliable operations and service makes Sistema Biobolsa technological competitive to alternative systems. We are still the only product that combines the fabrication and distribution model, allowing us to scale into new markets more efficiently, combining our credit facility and service and monitoring programs.
Financing and customer service
The technology only provides the desired outcome if farmers are able to purchase the systems, are properly trained and the technology remains in use for long enough to provide the desired impacts. We achieve this through an implementation methodology that provides financing, capacity building, long-term service and data monitoring.
To what do you attribute your success?
The main lessons we have drawn have been to grow slowly, constantly improve technology, create a strong team, build in-house financing options, and finding the right external partners. In addition, the below factors have been our building blocks.
- Providing integrated solutions to interlinked problems
Sistema Biobolsa addresses a set of integrated problems that threaten the livelihoods of rural farmers across the globe. These include poor waste management, soil degradation due to chemical fertilizers, increasing energy costs and the use of wood for fuel, exacerbating deforestation. In addition, each of these problems contributes to climate change.
Utilizing a high-quality biodigester, farmers convert waste into renewable energy and organic fertilizer. The biodigesters are available for farms of different sizes, ranging from 2 to 300 cows (15 sizes of biodigesters). Improved waste management protects water sources and reduces sanitary risks. Because farmers produce their own renewable energy, they gain savings in fossil fuel and chemical fertilizers purchases. Wood fuel is displaced in households, both reducing risk of chronic respiratory sicknesses and supporting reforestation. This inspires a sense of dignity among small-scale, resource-limited farming communities.
Holistic approaches empower farmers on multiple levels
- Investing in Sales and Promotion
The Sales and promotion team works directly with the customer, the farmer, providing access to funding opportunities when necessary. Sistema Biobolsa organizes promotion events at the farms of existing clients, spreading the benefits via word of mouth. Further, Sistema Biobolsa has a strong social media presence (60 videos on their YouTube channel, 11,000 likes on Facebook, and 600 followers on Twitter). Technicians visit the farm of each potential client to fill out a contact, farm diagnosis, and when applicable a credit evaluation (accessible via mobile, can be done on-sight), all of which then syncs into Sistema Biobolsa´s CRM platform. When the client confirms the sale, they then make a cash down payment, a manufacturing order is generated in Salesforce to the manufacturing plant.
- Perfecting Manufacturing and distribution
Sistema Biobolsa´s product is fabricated with high-quality raw materials to ensure low maintenance costs and long product lifetime in harsh rural contexts. All assembly and fabrication is done in Mexico on a just-in-time manufacturing schedule, with the whole design based on a zero waste concept and packaged to fit on a pallet (7% revenue spent on product creation). The plant and machines all belong to Sistema Biobolsa,.
- Ensuring quality and after-sales services
The system can be installed in a few hours by a team of two technicians. During the installation, the customer receives training, to assure he knows how the system works. This step also includes the initial waste input, as well as scheduling the first monitoring visit. Sistema Biobolsa offers a one-year guarantee on any manufacturing defect and a 20-year guarantee for the geomembrane.
Post-installation service and monitoring (a step unique to Sistema Biobolsa) allows the company to assure full technology onboarding. Three appointments, at 30, 90, and 180 days after installation, benefit both the customer who receives advice and training, as well as Sistema Biobolsa, who collects data points which can then be transformed into analytical reports to measure commercial and financial performance, as well as social/environmental impact.