April 11, 2014- Princeton, NJ – SKC Group, LLC Founder Alex Cardona recently returned to Princeton from Africa and was still buzzing about the positive impact that his company is having as a result of the recent deployment of grainschain™, an agricultural supply chain management technology developed by the SKC Group and recently deployed in East Africa. Their client, Joseph Initiative, also with management roots in Northern New Jersey, is a post-harvest ecosystem for trade that matches East African demand with Ugandan maize supply. Currently deployed in the Masindi District of Western Uganda, grainschain™ is enabling critical Supply Chain operations ranging from Supplier Registration, Procurement Planning & Execution, Cash Management, Inventory Management and Reporting. SKC Group recently deployed the offline version of grainschain™, which features a mobile application with offline transaction capabilities, essential for remote areas without access to the Internet.

“The impact that our company is having in Uganda, East Africa is significant,” said Alex Cardona, Founder of Princeton-based SKC Group, LLC. “Our mobile technology solutions are enabling the processes and controls necessary for clients to scale their operations while minimizing exposure to risks in emerging markets”. Grainschain™ technology enables local farmers, [up to 5,000 at the JI operation] to sell significantly larger quantities of maize at higher prices as a result of the operation.
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The region is known for losing up to 40% of post harvest maize prior to reaching the market due to various factors, a major one being inefficiencies in the end to end supply chain. While the operation currently processes up to 20,000 metric tons of maize per year the JI is projected to grow significantly over the next 5 years. Grainschain™ is also expected to scale up in features, presenting additional opportunities for the SKC Group and its client base.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 3.20.38 PM Regarded as the “Pearl of Africa”, Uganda has a population of 35 million, with 87% of the population in rural areas, 80% of which are engaged in Agriculture. 75% of the population is under 30 years of age and the unemployment rate for ages 15 – 24 is 80%. Making simple to use supply chain technology that supports agriculture operations in the region enables the workforce. It becomes a learning and development platform enabling the youth to build their skillsets, which will become more valuable as technology adoption rates increase over time. “Observing village procurement officers, warehouse operators and inventory managers use our mobile information technology on the field, some of which have never worked with computers prior to this project; has been an incredibly satisfying achievement for all of us at SKC.”

Africa today has a population of 1.1 billion, projected to grow to 2billion by 2050, the fastest projected continental growth in the world. The East African region is made up of Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Ethiopia, bringing together a population of 210 million and another 50 million in adjacent Burundi, Mozambique and South Sudan. East Africa as a regional economy has grown significantly, with this trend expected to continue driving foreign direct investment. There is growing investor interest and confidence in the region by public and private sectors. “I felt like I was in the middle of an industrial revolution” quoted Cardona as he reflected on his travels through Uganda and Kenya. The SKC Group is also betting big on the region and expanding their capabilities to cater to growers of sunflower, sesame, cotton, rice, soy, beans and coffee. They are in discussions with social investment firms and additional clients that are interested in holistic supply chain solutions that are scalable and simple to operate.

The SKC Group is also very active locally, in NJ. They experienced a busy first quarter of 2014. In January they launched a small operation to gauge the feasibility of using technology to link consumers to local farmers. They surveyed Princeton locals to gauge market demand and for 6 weeks they placed orders on local farmers and then delivered the fresh produce comprising organic raw fruits & vegetables to participants in their study. “The learning’s were astonishing,” said Cardona, who led the study. “In order for us to get information about the latest products available, we had to literally scroll through 16 pages of PDF files, exchange phone calls, emails and spreadsheets ”. Week over week pricing information was challenging to ascertain and communicate back to customers. “We realized there were significant inefficiencies that could be addressed through simple technologies, such as smart apps, capable of enabling automated product portfolios with easy access to pricing, promotions, and minimum order quantities”. Their key supplier, also a local farmer in Hopewell, NJ agreed there were significant opportunities and has been working closely with the SKC Group since the launch of the study.

Efficiency gains are important for a farmer because in addition to farming activities many also manually update their product availability on a weekly basis. This can be done via PDF files, updating websites, maintaining mass email communications, phone calls and updating Facebook and other social media. “This work is manually intensive, prone to human error and subject to failures outside of the farmers’ control; it is a barrier for growing your business”, says Cardona. From June through November farmers can work up to 100 hours per week just to keep up with day-to-day farming activities and additional demands from Farmer’s markets, contracts through CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture) and other channels.

s5 Nationwide, the number of community-hosted farmers’ markets has almost tripled from 2,863 in 2000 to more than 7,800 in 2012, according to the nonprofit, Virginia-based Farmers Market Coalition. This trend will likely continue, however “at the current pace there is not much room left for existing farmers to scale their operations without the use of smart technologies” points out Cardona. Other opportunities for efficiency gains are around compliance with regulations, for example traceability and record keeping requirements stemming from the recently signed Food Safety Modernization Act. Additional documentation is also required when a farm is undergoing a three year organic certification process, as is mandated in the US.

Food and agriculture are New Jersey’s third largest industry. In 2012, the state’s 10,300 farms generated cash receipts totaling $1.12 billion. Retaining productive, taxpaying farmland is critically important to all New Jersey residents since agriculture is the largest single source of the scenic vistas we all enjoy throughout the year. Farmers in the Garden State produce more than 100 different kinds of fruits and vegetables for consumers to enjoy either fresh or processed here in New Jersey and elsewhere in the Northeast, in Canada and in many countries around the world.

2 While the industry has been slow to adopt emerging technologies in supply chain for various reasons, Cardona points out “mobility will continue to become more ubiquitous while the generation of farmers shifts to a younger population and consumers become more aware of the benefits of buying local.

These trends give us much hope for the eventual adoption of mobile information technology”. Alex was thrilled when he encountered a farmer who developed a comprehensive spreadsheet to plan for production, capture yields and drive efficiencies. It was started more than 5 years ago and was updated and enhanced over time. They both agreed there we opportunities to scale this knowledge and make it easily available to thousands of farmers. “There is a growing population of farmers open and ready to embrace new technologies”, said Cardona. Other barriers impacting the industry include accessibility to technology, where it can be very costly to develop supply chain solutions that fit the business model. “The majority of standardized products in the market today require the business model to fit the product and as the business grows in complexity the existing technology remains static”, pointed Cardona. Adopting newer technology can also be a daunting task. “There is a general fear of adopting new technology”, however SKC Group sees a change in the positive direction. “We are removing those barriers via our rapid to deploy methodology, our simple to use technology and the standardization of our products, coupled with customizable variations which cater to businesses of any size” says Cardona.

In early February, the SKC Group attended the New Jersey Agricultural Convention and Trade Show, which drew attendees representing all levels of the state’s agricultural industry. Their banner read: Innovation, The future of Agriculture and they unveiled 3 distinct supply chain technologies. They met more business owners in the state’s agriculture industry, while learning about their challenges and opportunities. They had open dialogue with Agriculture experts ranging from the New Jersey Dept. of Agriculture, Rutger’s NJ Agriculture Experiment Station, New Jersey’s chapter of the Northeast Organic Farmer’s Association, and the NJ Farm Bureau. 3

They also connected with agricultural economists at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture; John Ikerd, professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri; Mellie Pulman, of Portland State University, author of Food Supply Chain Management: Economic, Social and Environmental Perspectives and Jeffrey O’Hara of the Union of Concerned Scientists, author of Market Forces: Creating Jobs Through Public Investment in Local and Regional Food Systems, August 2011. SKC also leveraged research published by the Wallace Center of Winrock International, a reputable promoter of the local food movement, which recently hosted a FoodHub convention in Raleigh, NC.

In May, SKC Group will be launching a partnership with New York City’s Public Health Solutions program to develop and provide long-term support for a mobile application designed to raise awareness and provide education on the dangers of co-sleeping with infants, a leading cause of Sudden Infant & Child Death (SICD). Recently, the SKC Group hosted an all day technology workshop for Public Health Solutions where 9 technology start-ups were introduced and multiple product demonstrations were conducted. By making the connections SKC was able to provide its client access to innovative solutions they could apply in their day-to-day community outreach programs related to SICD. The event was hosted at Princeton’s Start Up incubator, Tiger Labs, where SKC Group co-shares office space with 25+ like-minded entrepreneurs.

Not only are they innovators, SKC Group takes calculated risks and they are profitable. Alex bet big on his vision and handpicked team. Prior to resigning from a promising career with a large global consulting company he maximized a 401k loan that would serve as back up capital, which he paid back just in time to avoid hefty penalties and taxes on hard earned savings he accumulated during his 12+ years as a technology and business process consultant. In just 3 months of launching the company, the SKC Group was able to generate revenues that would allow it to organize a compensation structure for full time management of the company, sales and marketing activities and forging of partnerships while also building additional capacity to deliver solutions, products, and consulting services. SKC Group has a delivery team in India, which allows it to efficiently develop custom solutions as well as standard products, 2 of which are planned for a June launch. In turn SKC is able to pass on savings to its customers. SKC Group also plans to hire an intern, and 2 full time employees, encompassing NJ and other US locations by mid summer of 2014. They are also planning to grow their presence in East Africa and Latin America.

When asked about what makes his company different, Alex responded: “Its all about the team, our focus is on innovation and social entrepreneurship. We are a mix of highly experienced supply chain professionals, with access to highly skilled mobile applications developers and we understand the business processes”, said Cardona. They also understand the organizational elements that result in undergoing a major technology transformation including change management, training, user and role impacts. “This experience comes with dozens of large-scale and complex systems integration projects and it sets us apart from our competition. We go beyond developing a nice looking User Interface, we actually partner with our clients and guide them all the way”. Each SKC partner has clear decision making responsibilities and areas of focus, “we maintain flexibility and most importantly we listen to our clients”. They believe in customizing products for clients that have larger complexities in their operations. “We map our technology to client specific requirements versus asking clients to change their processes to fit our technology”, affirmed Cardona.

SKC’s roots are in consulting for SAP, which is an industry standard Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system used by many fortune 500 companies. Alex and his partner, Gaurav Kohli, resident of Jersey City (Chief Solution Architect and head of SAP Innovation Labs) have more than a decade of experience working as a team in implementing advanced planning & optimization systems and processes for a large global consulting company. They have an extensive network across various industries. SKC is also a member of SAP’s start up focus program, which provides SKC access to build their solutions on SAP’s in-memory database, SAP HANA©. This provides SKC capabilities to complement their products with managed services such as forecasting, predictive analytics, data mining and more, services they offer to their growing customer base.

When asked about the future, Cardona was charged with energy. “Soon after launching SKC we embraced a unique position that would allow us to apply emerging technologies for advancing social causes, in addition to running a profitable business”. They take this responsibility seriously, “it is our core business model”, said Cardona. Their goal is to advance agricultural supply chains by making technology accessible, scalable and simple to operate. “Our success with The Joseph Initiative in East Africa is a great first step towards accomplishing this vision.” They are developing a comprehensive resource management module that allows consistent tracking of labor and reporting and integrating smart scale technologies with their apps. Integration with QuickBooks (accounting software many small businesses use today); is also part of their roadmap. SKC also plans to develop innovative mobile apps that target end consumers in the food supply chain management space by linking devices, also termed “Internet of Things” which are capable of capturing and processing data that delivers value to the end consumer. Based on the results from their study on linking customers to local farmers in Princeton, SKC Group realized “our technology is an enabler of new business models where entrepreneurs can start, run and scale their operations.” They see the opportunity to “disrupt the agricultural industry, which is in dire need of transformation. Innovation is our future”, reverberated Cardona, pointing to his company banner.

SKC Group, LLC is a Supply chain management science and software company, headquartered in Princeton, NJ. We deliver innovative products and services across agriculture, health & life sciences industries. We improve business performance and advance social causes by applying emerging technologies and extensive supply chain experience to meet client specific opportunities. At SKC, we believe innovation is the future of agriculture.

4 grainschain™ enables agricultural supply chain processes and controls that minimize risk in Emerging Markets. It runs on a data model mapped to a unique network of locations, transactions, product and organizational attributes; specific to each operation.
5 farmbrain™ Mobile Information Technology enables the supplying farm, its distributors and its network of food hubs to capture customer demand signals, manage dynamic pricing, and enables inventory visibility by matching supply and demand via an integrated smart mobile application. Farmers can save time by automating product portfolios, pricing and promotions; simplify their processes by minimizing dependencies on Emails, Excel, PDF files and phone calls. Record keeping capabilities include reporting & compliance with food and safety regulations as well as organic certification reports.
6™ will be the one stop shop for Agri-Tourism, Farmers, FoodHubs, and other food management operations to manage communications, pricing and promotions directly with their customers. Updates to their customers via will save the farmer time as it will eliminate dependencies on emails and PDF files and will make subsequent updates to their websites and Facebook pages. This will drive efficiencies for the busy farmer by allowing them to focus on farming while maintaining up-to-date communications with their customers, vendors and other key players in the value chain.

Alex Cardona, Founder @ SKC Group, LLC
252 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08542
917 371 6689
SKC Video:

SKC Technology in Africa: Agriculture. Mobility. Frontier Markets