Social startup Seedloans co-founded by ODID student wins $22,000 innovation award

13 July, 2021

Congratulations to our student Merlin Stein, whose social startup, Seedloans, has won the $22,000 first prize in the Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge (GSIC).

Seedloans provides female smallholder farmers in rural Uganda with seeds as collateral-free loans in kind. The farmers receive 10 kilograms of bean seeds, fertiliser, access to storage and training as well as direct digital support. Once the beans have grown, producing an estimated 100 kg harvest, the farmers then pay back 20 kg. The harvested beans are stored and then sold when market prices are high, to finance new seeds.

Seedloans beat finalists from 28 universities in 16 countries to win the Fowler GSIC Changemaker Award for the most innovative social startup.

Seedloans was launched in 2020 when Merlin, who has just completed the MSc in Economics for Development, and collaborator Elizabeth Nalugemwa were discussing the impact of COVID on farmers in Uganda. Elizabeth mentioned that women in her village were struggling to obtain enough seed because of disruption to supply chains and low incomes and the two came up with Seedloans as a solution. The startup currently has a Ugandan/German team of eight.

Seedloans has so far mainly distributed seeds to farmer groups via the Young Farmers Federation of Uganda (UNYFA); it also partners with Salesforce, which is building an IT platform to track farmers pro bono, and agribora, which supplies free two-way SMS contact.

The startup has reached more than 200 farmers since its inception; with the prize money, the intention is to reach 300 more from September onwards, and 2,000 more in 2022, as well as building the team on the ground.

The Fowler GSIC, run by the University of San Diego and University of St Thomas in the US,  invites students to engage with one or more of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals by developing an innovation that responds to an environmental or social problem.

Seedloans was one of two startups nominated by student society Oxford Social Entrepreneurs to represent Oxford at the finals. 

As well as Merlin and Elizabeth, the team consists of Sabrina Kuespert, Martin Luba, Lutz Otto, Lisa Stolleis, Ismail Waiswa and David Wako.

Seedloans is currently looking for Ugandans interested in paid roles (half time or full time) to help drive the expansion of Seedloans, and are always keen to chat with people in agribusiness and smallholder farming – email Merlin if interested:

Find out more about Seedloans.

Find out more about the Fowler GSIC

Find out more about the MSc in Economics for Development