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Next Idea check-in: Two years later, “Yelp for farmworkers” is expanding services

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A new app helps connect migrant farmworkers to work opportunities

The Next Idea

After more than three years on the air, our innovation series, The Next Idea, is coming to a close, so it seems like a good time to check back with one of the many contributors to the series.

Feliciano Paredes is a classic example of an entrepreneur who identifies a need, creates an invention to fill that need, and embarks on the journey to bring that invention to market.

Back in November of 2016, he told us about a phone app he was creating called “Animo” — described as “Yelp for migrant farm workers.”

He said:

It’s been an ongoing story for, you know, for many years that labor just is very difficult to find and farmers are trying, you know, everything from mechanization to third party recruiters, contractors — trying to find the labor to harvest these crops that need to be hand-harvested, and definitely farmers that I’ve talked to were very eager to be able to put their profile or their farm on an application that, you know, thousands and maybe even millions of farm workers would be using to locate help, to be able to provide that platform where the agency and the farm worker can connect.

A lot has happened since then, and Paredes joined The Next Idea to talk about his journey.

On the app’s launch

The name of the app has changed. Now, it’s AgHelp, which will be more recognizable to people. Paredes is still in an early phase for the app. Previously, the app was in “Minimum Viable Product” phase — the first version of the app — with assistance from Grand Valley State University, but now Paredes is searching for investments that can expand the app into new platforms and languages.

On how immigration policies shape the app

While an administration tough on immigration may dissuade many migrant workers from entering the country, Paredes is still optimistic his app will be viable. “What we’re focused on is really just providing more transparency in the agricultural recruitment process, while making sure that workers that are connecting with growers, that they have the resources, and that the growers have enough labor to be able to harvest their crops,” he said. With tight immigration, the app may provide a crucial resource for farmers looking to find workers amid a shortage.

On his entrepreneurial path

For Paredes, the biggest surprise of his journey developing the app has been the support from other entrepreneurs. Paredes has been working with the Michigan Small Business Development Center through Grand Valley State. “They provide free resources for entrepreneurs and they’ve just been really instrumental,” he said. He also cites a friendly climate in Detroit as a key factor in his success. “People are just really genuinely willing to help entrepreneurs,” he said, “especially when it comes to innovative ideas that also have a social impact, and that are so critical like this for Michigan.”

The Next Idea is Michigan Radio’s project devoted to new innovations and ideas that will change our state.

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