Nice to see you here. My name is Matthias Schmidt-Rex and I’d love to share the history behind SmartHectar with you.
I’ve been an entrepreneur since 2004. I studied business economics and worked at several ad agencies before joining a digital agency as a managing partner. After five years working in that space, I sold my shares and started all over again. I studied organizational development for 1,5 years in order to support companies and leaders in change management.
Although working as a consultant was very satisfying, I still felt there was something missing. In 2015, I co-founded the initiative “Go Silicon Valley” to support German midsize companies in defining their innovation strategy with a focus on innovation labs and accelerator programs. During one of our trips to Silicon Valley, we realized that Agrifood & WaterTech was an upcoming space with a lot of investment opportunities, not only in the US but globally. The timing felt right, so we decided to launch the first accelerator program for Agrifood & WaterTech in Germany.
This was the true beginning of SmartHectar. In 2017, I founded SmartHectar Innovation with my co-founders as a spinoff of Go Silicon Valley. After a year of working diligently with German startups and corporates , we realized that there wasn’t a product-market fit. Most German companies were not ready to collaborate with fast-paced startups, nor did they have the dedicated resources needed to take part in an accelerator program. We decided to pivot our business model and came up with low-barrier-to entry programs, such as startup scouting, match-making programs and innovation challenges.
When we thought about the increasingly urgent challenge of feeding a growing world population and building sustainable food systems, we decided we needed to take our work a step further and build innovation hubs in emerging markets in order to support local innovation at the source.
Call it providence or coincidence, but at that time I met Jan Lachenmayer, the MD of enpact, at an event in Berlin. As enpact had already been active in Africa for a couple of years, we decided to work together to support startups in the region. We got to work immediately on outlining and launching Enable West Africa as the first project, which was soon followed by Enable Southeast Asia. These projects exposed the need of the locals for being involved in innovation in their cities and regions. We’ve taken what we’ve learned from these innovation challenges and are looking to build innovation hubs, physical spaces to support entrepreneurial growth in these markets. Here we are now, building up international innovation hubs for Agrifood & WaterTech where corporates can work with startups to tackle problems in these regions.
In 2016 and 2017 I visited my family in Ghana and Togo for the first time. The experiences there left a large impression on me, and I made the decision to support entrepreneurship in emerging markets in order to improve people’s lives on the ground. Experiencing peoples’ daily struggle with food and water problems on one side, and realizing there are already a lot of entrepreneurs with amazing solutions on the other side, encouraged me to believe in collaboration as the solution. We at SmartHectar believe that the best way to solve tough problems is by fostering collaboration between promising local startups and leading companies in the Agrifood & WaterTech industry. My family background and enpact’s presence in the region seemed to be perfect for pushing us towards the decision to start SmartHectar’s projects in West Africa.