Purdue Startup Assists Cameroon With Developing Hydroponic Farming Methods, Entrepreneurship

Purdue Startup Assists Cameroon With Developing Hydroponic Farming Methods, Entrepreneurship

May 15, 2019

A second visit by Heliponix startup to the African continent strives to develop new agricultural processes, self-reliance for countries.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Cameroon, a West African country in the Congo region, has long relied on foreign aid to feed its citizens due to the extreme desert climate in some areas and a continued influx in refugees and orphaned children from neighboring nations.

Through support from the Mandela Washington Fellowship, Scott Massey, a Purdue University graduate and founder of Heliponix, recently completed a workshop to provide Cameroon residents and farmers with practical advice and resources to develop low-cost hydroponic farms to increase the production of agricultural products and encourage entrepreneurship to advance self-reliance while using local materials.

Scott Massey, founder of Heliponix, steps over some pipes at the beginning of a hydroponic farm workshop at the University of Ngaoundéré in Cameroon. Massey, a Purdue University graduate, traveled to Cameroon to teach people about hydroponics and entrepreneurship. He is the co-founder of Heliponix, which makes the GroPod, an innovative appliance that fits under a kitchen counter and grows produce year-round. (Photo provided) Download image

Massey’s company makes the GroPod, an innovative appliance that fits under a kitchen counter and grows produce year-round.

“Organizations providing food for some of the most at risk groups in Cameroon are reliant on nonprofits, which can make it difficult for them to always have a consistent source of quality food ,” Massey said.  “We built hydroponic farms at certain locations to allow them to grow their own food, have some degree of independence from foreign aid, and overcome the extreme desert climate that often makes it difficult to grow crops.”

Massey credited the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which seeks to promote business development and civic engagement through the academic and entrepreneurial empowerment of African people, with the advancement of his contributions to the area and other programs to help the country feed its population while fostering independence. The program provides young entrepreneurs and leaders with the chance to travel to the United States for a short period of time for an opportunity to develop their skills and learn from mentors in American colleges and universities.

Massey, a graduate of  the Purdue Polytechnic Institute  in Mechanical Engineering Technology with a Certificate in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, was accepted into the program in 2017 and was later granted the status of American Professional, which made him eligible for the Reciprocal Exchange Grants. That led to his recent three-week trip to Cameroon.

Joseph Daliwa (left), Bello Mohamadou (center) and Scott Massey (right) work on a hydroponic system for orphans in Cameroon displaced by regional conflict. Daliwa and Massey got involved in helping in Cameroon through the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which seeks to promote agricultural empowerment of African people. Mohamadou is an English and science teacher in Ngaoundere, Cameroon. (Photo provided)Download image

During that trip, modular farms also were built at farm build at the University of Ngaoundéré with the purpose of teaching students how to build and maintain the farms. Massey adapted the GroPod device in these modular farms using the same concept but taking into consideration the availability of different resources. A video about his work is available here.

“There are some concepts from the GroPod that we have incorporated into these designs,  but it was important that we design the device with local materials so that they would be able to build it and replicate it themselves,” Massey said.

He also lectured at the University of Yaoundé, teaching students about hydroponic technologies and basic entrepreneurial skills. Through these lectures, Massey was able to share his experiences as an entrepreneur and offer advice that could help guide students in their own entrepreneurial ventures.

Massey’s lectures also focused on teaching the students how to pitch their ideas, an ability he said is essential to attract investors and grow a company.

“For any entrepreneur, the art of pitching is vital. As an entrepreneur, it is important to be able to properly articulate what the problem is that you are solving, what makes your solution unique, and what the opportunity is behind the solution. Having this clear articulate story-telling ability is what we were trying to help the students achieve, and that’s something that the Purdue Foundry does very well. Going through their program was a tremendous help for me and I am sharing this knowledge where I can,” Massey said.

Massey said taking part in programs at the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship at Purdue, was essential in helping get his company off the ground. 

This was Massey’s second trip to Africa through the Mandela Washington Fellowship’s Reciprocal Exchange Grant, which gives recipients the opportunity to travel to different sub-Saharan countries in the continent. In 2018, Massey traveled to Togo, where he assisted in developing sustainable agriculture methods.

About Purdue Foundry

The Purdue Foundry is an entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator in Discovery Park’s Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship whose professionals help Purdue innovators create startups. Managed by the Purdue Research Foundation, the Purdue Foundry was co-named a top recipient at the 2016 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Program by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities for its work in entrepreneurship. For more information about funding an investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at foundry@prf.org.

Writer: Zeina Kayyali, zmkayyali@prf.org

Purdue Research Foundation contact: Tom Coyne, 765-588-1044, tjcoyne@prf.org

Source: Scott Massey, scott@heliponix.com

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