NEWS: AgLaunch and Tennessee Department of Agriculture Announce First Round of Farmer-Driven Innovation Trials

    

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (May 22, 2018) —

AgLaunch and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture announce the first eight farmer-led projects connecting farmers with pre-commercial technology for field testing. These projects are part of the AgLaunch strategy to attract, start, and grow new agricultural startup companies to and in Tennessee by connecting them with local farmers, while simultaneously helping farmers access new technology and market opportunities. The program is supported by Tennessee Department of Agriculture.

“This is a significant step forward in the mission to test new ag technologies in the real world, right on the farm,” Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton said. “Given the tremendous response and interest from Tennessee farmers, we believe this first round of trials is just the beginning. This program is strengthening the state’s reputation as an ideal location to develop innovations in agriculture.”

This program is developed through the AgLaunch Farmer Network and the Model Farm program coordinated by AgLaunch. The AgLaunch Farmer Network is a group of farmers from across Tennessee who are testing new innovations and participating in new marketing approaches to highlight progressive work on their farms. The Model Farm program is made up of a select group of farms which serve as centralized hubs to demonstrate new innovations and technologies at Field Days and other events.

Field trial demonstrations are scattered throughout Tennessee focusing on at-risk and distressed counties as a way of attracting new innovation and technology into those areas.

“Tennessee farmers are leading the region in creating a network of progressive farmers to help startup companies de-risk their technologies, while addressing major problems in agriculture,” said Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch.

The following field-trial projects are currently underway with the following farms and agtech companies:

  • Kilimo, which helps farmers make better irrigation decisions, is conducting a multi-site trial comparing pivot irrigation management between Kilimo’s solution and existing methods. Participating farms include Sneed Brothers Farm, Growing Acres, Norwood Farms, and D&J River Farms.
  • Rose Creek Farms is piloting several technologies to facilitate more sustainable and economic production of vegetables including tomatoes and leafy greens on their organic farm in McNairy County.
  • MicroBiometer has a quick and inexpensive way to test for microbial activity in soil. This summer’s trials will test the MicroBiometer system on cover crops and organic agriculture. Participating farms include Sneed Brothers Farm, D&J River Farms, Rose Creek Farms, Batey Farms, and Yeargin Farms.
  • Norwood Farms is working with GroGuru to field test a monitoring system for irrigation recommendations that has been scaled in vegetables and is expanding into row crops.
  • EarthSense is testing an under-canopy plant phenotyping robot in field conditions to begin developing additional crop scouting and production practice applications specifically targeting herbicide-resistant weeds. Participating farms include Mid-South Family Farms and Jonah Brannon/Brannon Farms.
  • Tosh Farms based in Henry County with farming operations throughout Tennessee and Kentucky is partnering with startup SwineTech to run a major trial focused on reducing infant mortality in swine operations.
  • Yeargin Farms is leading an effort with Growing Acres Farms to collect data for WISRAN, measuringtime variations for farm management practices.
  • The management of these trials will be facilitated by another startup, AgriSync, which simplifies communication between companies, technicians, and their farmer customers.

Participants in the Model Farm program will be hosting a series of Field Days and demonstration programs to showcase technologies and to share best marketing practices. These events are open to farmers, food companies, agribusiness professionals, investors, entrepreneurs, and industry stakeholders.

The first Field Day will be held on August 2, 2018, at Growing Acres Farm in Savannah, Tennessee from 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. followed by lunch. If you would like more information, please email sdalton@aglaunch.com.

The AgLaunch Farmer Network program is open to all farmers. Interested farmers apply online here and are reviewed by an independent panel of experts in agriculture. Candidates selected for the Farmer Network are proven leaders already driving change in their communities. The Farmer Network is intentionally focused on recruiting a group of farms with diversity in size, crops farmed, livestock raised, and farming techniques. Members of the Farmer Network are eligible to participate in field-scale trials with collaborating agricultural startups and participate in a cost share program to offset the costs.

More information about AgLaunch and its programming can be found at aglaunch.com.

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About AgLaunch™ 

AgLaunch attracts, creates, and grows agtech startups, facilitates the development of new agriculture and food value-chains, and builds collaborative farmer networks in the Mid-South, with a commitment to intentional inclusion.AgLaunch was formed through a joint initiative between Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Memphis Bioworks Foundation. AgLaunch365 is a farm-centric innovation platform for agriculture designed to calibrate support with the specific needs of agtech startups and the agricultural industry. AgLaunch365 is made possible through partnerships with Innova, Start Co., Farm Journal Media, Archer Malmo, and Baker Donelson. www.aglaunch.com.

About Tennessee Department of Agriculture

The mission of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is to promote wise uses of Tennessee’s agricultural and forest resources, to develop economic opportunities, and to ensure safe and dependable food, fuel, and fiber for all citizens. The Agriculture Enterprise Fund (AEF) is an incentive program that supports Governor Haslam’s priority of job creation and economic development by facilitating agricultural development in Tennessee. The AEF is a product of the Governor’s Rural Task Force. It is administered by the Department of Agriculture in conjunction with the Department of Economic and Community Development.

AgLaunch & TDA recognize the following farmers that are part of the AgLaunch Farmer Network:

  • Batey Farms, Rutherford County
  • Jonah Brannon/Brannon Farms, Henry County
  • D&J River Farms, Franklin and Lincoln Counties
  • Growing Acres, Hardin County
  • Harrison Dairy, Loudon and Monroe Counties
  • Mid-South Family Farms, Hardin, Haywood, Lauderdale, McNairy, Shelby and Tipton Counties
  • Norwood Farms, Henry County
  • Rose Creek Farm, McNairy County
  • Sneed Brother Farms, Shelby and Tipton Counties
  • Tosh Pork, Henry County
  • Yeargin Farms, Gibson and Weakley Counties

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AgLaunch365 Announces New Startups In Farm-Centric Platform

Three Teams in Phase I of AgLaunch365 Will Focus on Customer Discovery and Business Model Development; Phase II Applications Due November 15

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AgPR) Nov. 2, 2017 — AgLaunch365 has accepted three new agtech startups into Phase I of its farm-centric innovation platform. AgLaunch365 provides startups with the tools needed to integrate with farmers to create and implement sophisticated field trial protocols and prepare for funding by aligned capital sources. Phase I teams will receive intensive business development support and customer discovery assistance. Teams will have access to leading accelerator programming, the AgLaunch Farmer Network, the Cultivator Mentor Network, and to AgLaunch’s partnership with Farm Journal Media, among a range of other services.

This 6-week program will be delivered through remote programming and in-person sessions held in Memphis. It will culminate at the Farm Journal AgTech Expo in Indianapolis December 11-13, 2017 (www.farmjournalagtechexpo.com).

“We are excited to support these three innovative teams who are committed to solving problems for the agriculture industry,” said Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch. “Following the Phase I business development and customer discovery, these entrepreneurs will be better prepared to launch their products in the field with our extensive group of farmers during 2018.”

Phase I teams are:

  • DryMAX, based in Minnesota, is commercializing a low-energy, low-heat radio wave process for drying grain that keeps grain integrity and maximizes nutrition delivery. (www.drymaxsolutions.com).
  • EarthSense, based in Illinois, has developed TerraSentia, an ultra-compact, autonomous, easy-to-use robot with multiple sensors and embedded data collection and analytics software for plant phenotyping. They are working with the seed industry and crop R&D partners to test and optimize TerraSentia. (www.earthsense.co).
  • Rabbit Tractors, based in Indiana, is developing an autonomous, mobile, multi-purposed, swarm-capable and high-ground clearance farm-production tractor for all pre-harvest activities. (www.rabbittractors.com).

“Tennessee and the surrounding Mid-South region is becoming known as a leader for field testing and trialing new technologies and innovations in agriculture,” said, Commissioner Jai Templeton, Tennessee Department of Agriculture. “We are pleased to be able to facilitate that process to grow the overall agtech sector.”

AgLaunch365 teams are eligible for investment from a key AgLaunch partner, Innova and its USDA-certified Rural Business Investment Company fund, a $31 million fund backed by eight Farm Credit banks.

AgLaunch is a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Innova was founded by Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

AgLaunch365 focuses on helping entrepreneurs find success by providing agriculture expertise, incubator resources, and a strong global ag specific network. Paired with the natural resources of Tennessee and the surrounding Mid-South region, AgLaunch365 has the power to help launch startups into successful businesses.

AgLaunch365 consists of three phases of support that closely align with a typical growing season. In Phase I, teams develop their business models and gain access to the Cultivator Mentor Network from October through December. Phase II participants begin in January and refine their product or technology to be “field ready” for on-farm trials with AgLaunch365’s Farmer Network beginning in the spring. Phase III teams work directly with growers in the region to test their innovation in the field during the growing seasons.

Applications to participate in Phase II can be found here: www.aglaunch.com/aglaunch-365.
Deadline for Phase II is November 15, 2017.

About AgLaunch™
AgLaunch attracts, creates, and grows agtech startups, facilitates the development of new agriculture and food value-chains, and builds collaborative farmer networks in the Mid-South, with a commitment to intentional inclusion.AgLaunch is a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation (www.memphisbioworks.org) and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (www.tn.gov/agriculture). AgLaunch365 is a farm-centric innovation platform for agriculture designed to calibrate support with the specific needs of agtech startups and the agricultural industry. AgLaunch365 is made possible through partnerships with Start Co., Farm Journal Media, Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson. www.aglaunch.com

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Media Release Contact:
Margaret Oldham
901-351-2904
moldham@aglaunch.com

100 Companies in Five Years is Tenn. Agriculture Industry Goal

An agricultural revolution is coming to Tennessee.

At least that’s the goal Ag Innovation Group in Memphis has set, in partnership with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, through the formation of AgLaunch.

AgLaunch is a state-wide organization working to grow 100 agricultural companies in Tennessee throughout the next five years, Pete Nelson, CEO of Ag Innovation Group, said.

Jumping right in with the effort, the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center started AgWorks, a startup accelerator focused on agricultural companies. Throughout the 12-week program, the KEC provided general business expertise, while AgLaunch provided agriculture specific knowledge.

Fueling a $60 billion industry

There are approximately 66,000 full- or part-time farmers in Tennessee, Nelson said.

“It’s a $60 billion industry, but there’s basically little or no activity doing new things with innovation,” he said. “The goal with AgLaunch is to help build around that robust industry by adding new technology and innovation. The hope is we create companies and technologies that increase the profitability for farmers, lower the environmental impact of farm operations, create new markets, but also create more rural-urban connectivity.”

To do this, AgLaunch has set up venture capital funds and helping create accelerators like AgWorks.

Seeing Knoxville get involved so quickly is especially important to Nelson as AgLaunch works toward its goal because of the difference in agriculture East Tennessee has compared to West and Middle Tennessee.

“It just opens up a whole different set of agriculture and forestry companies,” Nelson said.

Unlike traditional startups, in which most investment capital is on the west or east coast, the agriculture industry is decentralized, Stephen Jenkins, KEC director of entrepreneurship, said. He said the presence of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture and Oak Ridge National Laboratory makes Knoxville “especially primed” to generate and support new companies.

“We’re able to channel (energy from UT and ORNL), and with the agriculture community nearby, we can marry them, so products are validated faster and relationships are created faster,” Jenkins said.

A Ph.D. student turned entrepreneur 

Grow Bioplastics, which creates 100 percent biodegradable plastics for farmers, participated in AgWorks. The company has participated in multiple startup accelerators and pitch competitions across the country, winning more than $130,000.

AgWorks was the first program the company found with an agricultural focus, Grow Bioplastics co-founder Tony Bova said.

“Other programs we’ve gone to have focused on businesses that are software or technology related, and things move fast,” Bova said. “But in ag, things move slower, and the expertise is much different, so we were pretty excited about having people that were specifically looking at the area we wanted to be in.”

Bova, a Ph.D. student at UT, believes AgLaunch at programs like AgWorks are a step in the right direction, comparing the future of the agriculture industry to past industrial revolutions.

“Other industrial revolutions that have helped society move to its next level have been the result of great partnerships between academia, government and industry, and in agriculture, the level of innovation has been there, but hasn’t seen the support from all three together to really say that we have a revolution,” he said. “There are a lot of great things coming. I think it’s just getting started.”

Bova sees research at UT and ORNL through his doctoral program that sometimes ends when it’s published.

“It takes great partnerships with industry, with tech transer and startups in general to bring those researched ideas out to the masses,” he said. “To me, it takes businesses to be able to do that.”

Completing the puzzle

Connecting with leaders in the agriculture industry is crucial for entrepreneurs like Bova, he said, calling people with great ideas “one piece of the puzzle.”

The puzzle is completed when those people have support from seasoned business leaders. Michael Whitt also participated in AgWorks. His company, Cattle Sync, is an app that will allow cattle farmers to enter information about the care of their herd and streamline the sales process digitally.

He said AgWorks was “huge” for his company.

“It helped me look at agriculture on a high level versus on a low level, which I’m used to,” he said. “The exposure to different opportunities for funding and to see how the investment piece works was very useful.”

Alex Adams’ company Geo Air also benefited from industry networking. Adams is working to lower the number of crops destroyed by mold. He said one-third of the world’s crops go bad because of mold. Looking at only corn crops, that equals approximately $20 billion in the U.S. and $260 million in Tennessee on average.

Geo Air uses drones to find mold in crops before it becomes a problem, using technology that identifies mold spores in the air before they ruin the crop. Existing technology uses imaging, which can only identify the problem after it has damaged the crop.

“There were a couple times where I was sitting there trying to think through an idea or trying to find the right person, but it would take me like two months to figure it out,” Adams said. “Then (during AgWorks) there were a couple days that ended up being a 10 minute conversation. It gave me a super big leap on developing my business.”

100 companies in five years

Lasting communication between companies and industry leaders is key to reaching AgLaunch’s goal, Nelson said. The mindset at KEC is representative of how Nelson sees the goal being met.

“We would hold (KEC) up as a model across the state, because they’re not competitive, they’re open-minded and smart,” he said. “They modeled all the behaviors that would be great if all of us had in terms of building a good cooperation.”

By next summer, Nelson hopes to have the startup’s products being tested in the field.

Applications Open for Agricultural Innovation Companies to Participate in AgLaunch365

Farm-Centric Program Assists in Field Trials & Attracting Investment

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (September 7, 2017) – AgLaunch is excited to announce applications are open for its latest initiative AgLaunch365, which combines its leading accelerator program with its network of innovative farmers in a flexible wrap-around model that revolves around the agricultural production cycle.

AgLaunch365 will operate in three phases, allowing startups to participate in the phases that are relevant to each company’s stage of growth. The year-round program includes:

  1. Phase I: Business model development  – “customer discovery”
  2. Phase II: Refine product – “getting field ready”
  3. Phase III: Access to network of innovative farmers – “field trials”

AgLaunch365 is now accepting applications from agricultural startup companies seeking to participate in any phase of the program targeting the following areas:

  • Precision Farming
    • Management of inputs
    • Soil & crop tech
    • Irrigation & water tech, sustainability enablers
  • Farming technology
    • New equipment
    • Robotics or automation
  • New, innovative technologies
    • Crop production, harvest & storage
    • Supply chain & logistics
    • Processing/productivity tools, diagnostics
    • Food safety, security
  • Animal Health & Nutrition
    • Welfare practices
    • Healthcare improvements

Here are a few of the tools that AgLaunch365 participants will have access to throughout the year:

  • Programming:
    • Customized programming focused on agriculture from AgLaunch and lean startup business development facilitated by Start Co.
    • Support from a national network of mentors and service providers including Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson
    • First-hand access to industry expertise in the Memphis & Mid-South region including row crop production and logistics (blockchain, intramodal)
    • Virtual programming opportunities with Knoxville Entrepreneur Center and other partners
  • Funding:
    • Seed stage (historically $25k – $50k for Phase I companies) and potential for follow-on investment from Innova Ag Innovation Fund IV, a licensed USDA Rural Business Investment Company funded by eight Farm Credit banks
    • Access to our network of leading venture capital partners with expertise in agriculture, such as Cultivian Sandbox Ventures
    • Cost-share program to help farmers underwrite costs of new agtech trials that can create first customers for the startup and lower the risk for farmers to try new innovations
  • Farmer engagement:
    • Field trials and access to leading farmers & farm organizations including Ritter Agribusiness & Mid-South Family Farms
    • Access to a network of universities and research farms including Agricenter International to support 3rd party research
  • Visibility:
    • Direct access to Farm Journal as an exclusive media channel partner, including behind-the-scenes access to events like AgTech Expo
    • Participation in events including: Farm Bureau’s Agriculture Investment Summit & the Startup Station at the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show

AgLaunch365 reflects the continued refining of our model to revolutionize the way agricultural innovation is brought to market. Through our experiences to date, we’ve found what works, but we’ve also seen the opportunity to tailor our program even more effectively,” says AgLaunch President, Pete Nelson. “AgLaunch365 will accommodate the specific needs and timing of those working in the ag industry in a strategic way that has never before been done in the industry.”

Startups will have the ability to enter the program based on their developmental needs and how their product fits in the farm planning and cropping cycle.  Entrepreneurs who participate will have dedicated blocks of time for programming in Memphis, TN, but also have flexibility to travel or be in the field to conduct normal business and assignments in-between programming.

“AgLaunch is situated in one of the best areas for ag entrepreneurs. Not only is the region rich with natural resources, but Tennessee sees the value in ag innovation,” says Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture, Jai Templeton. “AgLaunch is bringing the right people – from investors, entrepreneurs, and those within the ag industry – to a region that supports innovation and agriculture.”

AgLaunch365 phases are designed to build upon each other and startup teams are invited to apply for all three phases or for one specific phase, based on their needs.

AgLaunch365 is open to companies at all stages, offering early-stage help or later access to progressive farmers who can help ground-truth innovative technology.

Application deadlines are:

  • For entry in the entire program, applications due by 8:00 a.m. CT on Monday, October 2, 2017.
  • For field ready phase, applications due by 8:00 a.m. CT on Monday, November 6, 2017
  • To access the field trial network, applications due by 8:00 a.m. CT on Monday, January 8, 2018.

Go to www.aglaunch.com for more information about AgLaunch365 or to apply click here.

To view a video on the AgLaunch program click: https://youtu.be/BhfMFnJyS08 and to view pitches from the past AgLaunch Accelerator participants, go to:  http://bit.ly/2hDTGN7.

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About AgLaunch™ 

AgLaunch develops agtech startups, creates value-chain companies, builds collaborative farmer networks and addresses gaps in the regional food and ag innovation ecosystem. The goal is to attract, start and grow 100 agricultural startup companies by 2022. AgLaunch is a joint initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation® and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture.