AgHelp prepares for launch
After accelerator program, startup takes platform connecting migrants, farmers and agencies in new direction.
Last year at this time, AgHelp was testing its prototype of a mobile app for connecting migrant workers to jobs and support services in the agriculture industry.
After finishing a three-month stint in the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator this summer, the Grand Rapids-based startup has a new strategy and a mid-October launch date for its platform.
The Des Moines, Iowa-based agritech accelerator provided AgHelp with $150,000 in cash, mentoring and development services.
AgHelp founder Feliciano Paredes said spending time with industry experts was invaluable.
“Last year, we had the (app) prototype, we were testing it and needed funding to take the prototype and start building the functional platform to get customers on board,” he said.
After the accelerator’s analysis showed the mobile app would cost $30,000 to $60,000 to launch on just one platform — iOS or Android — the startup “pivoted” to the idea of launching only on a web platform.
“The direction we’re going now with the web platform means anybody will be able to access it. It’s responsive design,” Paredes said.
A responsive design approach allows web pages to render well on a variety of devices and window and screen sizes, so users don’t need to exit the browser and use an app when on a smaller device.
AgHelp used funding from the accelerator to hire Brounie, a web development company based in Querétaro, Mexico, to work on the project from interface development to launch.
The new platform still will have three main target user groups: employers, who will pay a subscription fee ranging from $35 per month to $3,499 per year to post job openings, depending on how many positions they need to fill; agencies that can create free profiles for their organization and post notices of events and services by location; and workers, who can use the platform free of charge for searching for jobs, housing, health care, education, legal services and child care by location.
The platform will be available in Spanish and English at AgHelpUSA.com starting in mid-October.
It will include a chat feature that will allow workers to chat directly with farmers for questions on housing, crop conditions, pay, etc., Paredes said.
The platform also will give users the option to sign up for notifications about jobs and services by location.
The Paredes family — including brothers Feliciano, Sadoc and Ivan Paredes, who are now working at the startup — formerly were migrant farm workers and faced the challenges of finding work, housing and wraparound services as they moved from place to place.
Feliciano Paredes said other platforms that currently exist to help ag workers tend to focus on white-collar positions, such as scientists or executives.
“We’re focused on the first tier of workers, the ones doing the hourly seasonal work,” he said. “And we’re focused on three or four industries: specialty crop, dairy, processing and production.”
He said he believes the app will solve several problems.
“Not only do we want to provide the opportunity for workers here in Michigan and not only do we want to make sure that Michigan’s ag industry continues to thrive and farmers don’t leave crops or fruits and vegetables in the field that go to waste, but we also really want to make a social impact in the lives of the agricultural workforce,” he said.
“We want those workers to be able to find the best jobs and connect them to basic resources like health, education, training. We want to provide a pipeline of workers that not only are trained but healthy and want to stay in the industry, whether it’s harvesting or maybe a higher-level position. We’re more than just jobs.”
AgHelp has activated account registration so users can sign up and be notified when the platform launches.
Paredes said they have had about 400 signups per month on the worker side, and about 50 employers and 168 agencies are pre-registered.
After launch, AgHelp plans to hire a developer to maintain the platform.
The startup plans to tweak various facets of the platform depending on post-launch feedback, such as the employer subscription price or other aspects of the interface.
In addition to funding and services from the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator, AgHelp previously received in-kind services from Varnum’s MiSpringboard Program and accounting firm Rehmann.
In March, AgHelp placed fourth in the GreenLight Michigan Business Model Competition, receiving $7,500.
AgHelp also will be competing in Start Garden’s Sept. 25 5x5 Night.