Changing the Farmer’s Role in AgTech Commercialization

The following insights and opinions are from Pete Nelson, president and executive director for the Memphis-based AgLaunch Initiative.

 

As you have been reading in farm magazines or heard at conferences over the last couple of years, there is an increasing interest and investment in the development of new agricultural technologies and the creation of new “startup” companies to bring innovations to market. This interest is driven by the need to feed a growing population, changing food consumption patterns, increased pressure on natural resources, and  the dramatic reduction of the cost of technologies such as genomic sequencing and data. There is no doubt there are changes and that farming is being confronted with thousands of new technologies from all sides.

Farmers have always been at the forefront of developing new innovations and technologies since the beginning of agriculture. These innovations addressed direct needs on the farm and created solutions that could work economically and efficiently. Now there is a huge increase in the amount of new technology (much of it unproven) that gets pitched to you, and there is also on an increasing disconnect between those creating new innovations and you the farmer. We all have stories of seeing a new idea presented from an excited entrepreneur that we know at first glance won’t work for very practical reasons.

The disconnect between those who are creating new innovations and the farm is dramatically lowering the probability of success for new agricultural ventures, which is in turn giving investors pause and is certainly not accelerating adoption quickly. There is a new way – the Farm Centric Innovation model will change the entire agricultural investment thesis into new ventures. And most excitedly, this means an increasing role for farmers in the creation and refining of new ideas, and not just being the customer. It’s a full-circle return to how it used to be with a modern twist.

One of the biggest issues with this divide between innovation creation and the farmer is that often the new technology is not tried in real farm conditions, nor is it tried early enough to contribute towards make-or-break decisions on whether or not to continue to invest in the new idea. This means a lot of investor capital is being deployed for too long on dead ends. In fact, this problem is so bad the many who are developing new technologies, even those working within traditional agricultural research institutions, increasingly view the farmer as a “first customer” but not as an innovation partner.

This must change. To approach a farmer as a first customer with a half-baked product is always a bad idea. As everyone who is reading this knows, farmers are a well-networked group and word travels fast about snake oil or things that are promises or not delivered to bring forward an idea that’s not been properly validated in the field.

Trying to sell a farmer as a first customer on an idea that has not been field validated is not a good idea. However, farmers will continue to prove willing partners in helping take an idea and turning it into a fully functioning product if given the chance. Within the Farm Centric Innovation model, your role in new innovation development includes trying a new technology in the field at farm scale and providing feedback on common sense observations on how to improve the product. For example, does a new harvesting robot have enough ground clearance, or if it’s a new voice recognition technology, will it be accurate even when being used on a loud combine? This on-farm work provide meaningful feedback to continue to optimize solutions, which is both good for the startup innovator as well as for the investors and ultimately ensuring a product is ready to actually go to market.

Another key role for farmers is helping originate new ideas. You are on the front lines of experiencing the world’s largest problems such as the effects of herbicide-resistant weeds, nitrogen inefficiencies, and a long list of additional issues. Farmers have done and can continue to do a great job in helping identify these problems and working with innovators that have solutions to address them.

Still, the majority of groups working in the agricultural innovation space are at least one step removed from being able to work directly with farmers in the field. You can go to agricultural investment conferences and meetings where the latest technologies in the pipeline are discussed and investors make decisions on where to invest and never find a farmer. You can spend time with a big multinational seed and chemical companies talking about the farmers without farmers being in the room. This disconnect remains the standard, which is driving much slower adoption rates and probability of success. The Farm Centric Model is driving the common goal of incorporating farmers in the innovation ecosystem early and its full participants (not just first customers).

Thankfully, there are some good examples emerging, such as the Western Growers Association, which has partnered with Taylor Farms to build an incubator and coworker space, participated in accelerators, and worked with venture-capital firms to support startups in addressing real-world problems in the vegetable and specialty crop production arena. Another great example is the Iowa Corn Opportunities Fund, which is a venture capital fund started by the Iowa Corn Growers. This fund has repositioned Iowa Corn’s farmer members as partners in the innovation development with other venture capital sources.

Probably most exciting are the farmers and farm organizations that are being set up to partner with startup accelerators and incubators to take a key role in developing technology. These “farmer networks” have many models, but include groups such as Fall Line Capital, Indigo Partners, Oxbow Agriculture, Lawrence Group, Ritter Agribusiness, and Mid-South Family Farms to name a few. These organizations are set up to partner with an early-stage idea or innovation, keep the cost of field trials low by trading for equity and/or future rights to invest, and the farmers receive other benefits from spending time and energy working with a technology early. The start-up receives a willing and able partner, visibility, data collection and third-party validation that can be used to raise investment money, attract additional partners and first customers.

There are many examples of how this is already working. One example is start-up called AgVoice, which has a voice recognition technology for agriculture that simplifies crop scouting and other recordkeeping efforts. This technology was validated in fields in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas in 2016 working with Ritter Agribusiness and Mid-South Family Farms. The validation included a lot of really basic concepts. For example, will the technology work in the cab of a tractor or combine when it gets noisy, will the ear piece stay on your ear when you’re in the middle of scouting a hot cotton field, and will the lexicon be robust enough to record all the farm practices necessary and will the records be accurate? The results of this real-world field trial were excellent with the feedback incorporated by AgVoice. A report was generated that has been used to raise further investment and attract additional customers. This is just one example of many in which new technologies are being field validated.

We believe in this role for the farmer as a partner in innovation, not just a first customer will change the entire agricultural investment thesis. This will bring forward more successful startups change the probability of success in a positive direction and bring forward solutions that more efficiently address real-world agricultural problems. There’s a lot more that needs to be communicated, but we invite farmers and those who work directly with farmers into this Farm Centric Model we’re developing to help change the role of farmers in innovation.

Meet the Startups Seeking to Change Farming

Not all high-tech entrepreneurs are urban.

Five agriculture-related startups from East Tennessee will join in a 12-week business accelerator program this summer, beginning with a July 18 kickoff party at Sizzle TechStart, 487 Sam Rayburn Parkway in Lenoir City.

The 6 p.m. party will include dinner, refreshments, and “a brief introduction of the program and teams,” according to a news release. Registration is free at www.eventbrite.com/e/agworks-launch-party-tickets-35765989036.

“The event is open to the general public; however, we have primarily focused marketing on individuals within the agriculture industry,” Stephen Jenkins of the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center said via email. “Our outreach included farmers, UT extension agents, UTRF, ag-entrepreneurs, etc.”

The entrepreneur center is co-hosting the party with AgLaunch, an initiative of Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture which seeks to boost 100 new farm-oriented startups by 2022.

The accelerator program is called AgWorks, and is funded by Launch Tennessee, USDA and Tennessee Department of Agriculture. Its first five participants are:

  • Grow Bioplastics, which makes a biodegradable plastic that can be plowed under after use;
  • Cattle Market Mobile, which compiles federal commodity data for farmers;
  • Geo Air, which uses drones to make heat maps of mold “hot spots” in crops;
  • Tomboy Organic Skincare, which makes organic skin care products and makeup from regional plants; and
  • Urban Valley Farms, which makes protein powder from crickets as sustainable and inexpensive food.

The business accelerator program will feature development sessions, mentorship, workshops, and investment access help through AgLaunch, according to the news release.

Sizzle TechStart is in a renovated farmhouse in Roane Regional Business & Technology Park. Sam Weaver, founder of Proton Power Inc., created the business-launch center there in 2015, in the same building where Proton Power started in 2007. Grow Bioplastics is already a tenant.

Innova Memphis Raises $31m Rural America Ag Innovation Fund

Innova Memphis, an early-stage venture capital firm, has closed its latest fund, Innova Ag Innovation Fund IV. This marks the firm’s fourth fund.

Founded in 2007 by the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, Innova focuses on starting and funding high-growth companies in the biosciences, technology and agtech fields. Bioworks is focused on invigorating Memphis and the surrounding Delta region focusing on agriculture/food, logistics, materials, and human health.

As part of the USDA’s Rural Business Investment Program (RBIP), the fund has been certified and licensed to operate as a Rural Business Investment Company (RBIC). The RBIP is part of the White House’s Made in Rural America export and investment initiative designed to draw capital and infrastructure support to rural communities in the US.

The goal of each RBIC is to help fill the need for business and development capital in rural areas. A minimum of 75% of funds from an RBIC must be made in rural areas with a population of 50,000 or less, a minimum of 50% of funds must be invested in smaller enterprises, and a maximum of 10% may be invested in urban areas.

Why Agtech?

Innova’s interest in agtech started many years ago, but Innova partner Jan Bouten became particularly motivated when he learned that Advantage Capital Agribusiness Partners completed the RBIC certification process and closed a $154.5 million fund with the initial goal of reaching $100 million.

“We started investigating how it works and had our first meeting with Farm Credit to gauge their interest,” Jan Bouten, partner, tells AgFunderNews. “We really wanted to combine Innova’s background in early-stage investing with AgLaunch Accelerator director Pete Nelson’s background in agriculture and agtech.”

Also, having grown up in a heavily agricultural region in the Netherlands, the focus on agtech was a natural progression for Bouten, who also has a lengthy tech investing history.

Fund Focus

The $31 million fund will focus on early-stage investments located in rural America, and will work with various national farm organizations and other partners to identify, enable and accelerate companies with high growth potential in the rapidly expanding agtech sector.

Considering that Silicon Valley reigns supreme in tech and that many other cities are clamoring for the title of “agtech capital,” limiting the fund’s focus to rural regions may cause some to pause.

“In general, I think companies should be where their customers are. That is one thing we are going to do very heavily. For every investment we make, we will talk to end users and farmers about it,” Bouten tells AgFunderNews. As for finding enough companies that fit the RBIP’s investment requirements, he isn’t fazed.

“Since we first announced that we are going after this, we have seen a lot of companies and I don’t forsee any issues fitting those criteria.” In fact, he believes that more and more startups may eschew the city centers for rural areas both as a way to cut down on big city expenses and to get closer to their end users. For Bouten, the ability to interface with the customer is critical.

Located in the heart of the Delta region, Innova believes it is perfectly situated to identify these opportunities locally and throughout the US.

Innova has identified five key focus areas for the fund:

  • Farming technology, equipment and enabling innovation, including robotics. 
  • New technologies pertaining to crop production, harvest, storage, supply chain/logistics and processing/productivity tools and software.
  • Areas of precision agriculture such as crop, water, and chemicals management.
  • Innovations addressing food security, safety, and nutrition challenges.
  • Novel animal health and welfare systems and practices.

And while he isn’t ruling any technologies out at this point, Bouten has some clear parameters for the technologies that fit the fund’s goals.

“We will mostly be looking at the adaptation of existing core technologies to this field. I don’t think we will look at a lot of deals where the core technology still has high risks, or needs another five to seven years of R&D before we know if it actually works,” he explains.

“The benefits that we are seeing from having such amazing technology put in consumer devices in the last 10 years has driven down the cost of very powerful sensors, processors, networks that until fairly recently were not available to put to work in agriculture because it would cost too much. The time is right now to take advantage of the billions of cell phones and devices that have made all this stuff really cheap so we can now introduce it to agriculture.”

This isn’t Innova’s first foray into agtech, with existing portfolio companies including precision ag company AgSmarts and sweetbio, a biotech company creating a medicinal honey-based product.

Partnerships

Innova is in the process of finding the right partnerships to aid it with this endeavor, and has already indicated that it will work closely with the AgLaunch Accelerator. AgLaunch is a venture development organization, accelerator and farmer network organization, which focuses on a farm-centric commercialization model for agricultural innovation. Bioworks created AgLaunch, in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture as part of its mission to boost the region’s vitality and with the goal of focusing on the agriculture and food entrepreneurial community.

Although the parties do not have an official relationship requiring Innova to invest in the program’s companies, Bouten recognizes a strong synergy between the fund and AgLaunch’s focus. As for additional partners, Bouten is in the process of identifying other outlets.

“Thanks to AgFunder’s report on accelerators and all the agtech and foodtech resources that exist, we have been quite active in talking to many of those accelerators and programs and will continue to do so over the next couple months to solidify partnerships where it makes sense,” he says.

In May 2016, the first agtech-focused RBIC launched, called the Open Prairie Rural Opportunities Fund. Managed my Midwest agtech investment firm Open Prairie Ventures and totaling $100 million, it marks the firm’s fourth fund.

AgLaunch Announces 2017 Accelerator Companies

More than 125 ag startups from across the globe expressed interest in the 2017 AgLaunch Accelerator, many of which were referred by leading venture capital groups and farmer organizations. Ultimately, three startups were chosen based on their stage of business, product development lifecycle and need to access the local agricultural ecosystem.

AgLaunch is pleased to announce these companies will participate in the Summer of Acceleration programming in Memphis:

  • Microbiometer (Englewood, NJ): Microbiometer is a rapid on-site soil testing tool that measures microbial mass. This means soil health can be assessed quickly and inexpensively, compared to traditional assay methods.
  • Persistence Data Mining (San Diego, CA): Using proprietary UAV technology, Persistence Data Mining rapidly develops soil nutrient maps over large tracts of farmland. These maps dramatically improve the efficiency of automated fertilizer applications by providing more detail than traditional soil sampling methods.
  • Kilimo (Cordoba, Argentina): Kilimo provides a decision support tool for irrigation management in broadacre agriculture. Using satellite, climate, and on site data, Kilimo feeds their proprietary Big Data engine to make the best possible irrigation prescription for each crop.

 

AgLaunch Accelerator invests $50,000/team and three months of intensive business development support, access to farm trials and a robust mentor network to up to six startup companies every year. Funding is provided by Innova Memphis, a Memphis Bioworks-founded early stage venture capital firm focused on starting and funding high-growth companies in the bioscience, medical, agricultural and logistics fields.

Participating startups will be immersed in a collaborative Summer of Acceleration experience in Memphis with six other business accelerators May 1- August 10. Entrepreneurial programming is supported through the expertise of EPIcenter and Start Co., a member of the Global Accelerator Network that has led more than 80 startup companies. Startups will also have access to expert agri-marketing and legal advice provided by Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson respectively.

“In its second year, AgLaunch continues to expand its farm-centric innovation platform to accelerate the process of bringing new ideas into agriculture,” said Steve Bares, Ph.D., president and executive director, Memphis Bioworks Foundation.

“The organization offers a one-stop shop for researchers, farmers, logistic providers, processors, non-profits, investors and corporate partners to help validate and grow new ideas in the agricultural space. Memphis provides the perfect opportunity to connect with all these assets in our unique geographical location allowing for incredibly diverse agriculture opportunities.”

“The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is proud to collaborate with AgLaunch to invest in innovative companies that are advancing agriculture,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton. “By matching entrepreneurs with farmers in a farm-focused model, AgLaunch helps fine-tune innovations faster to ensure a higher success rate in solving global problems such as water and nutrient management.”

AgLaunch Accelerator alumni have benefitted from this intensive program by receiving both entrepreneurial and agricultural resources that meet their unique needs as well as post-accelerator support.

“We were coached and mentored by very skilled professionals on how to run a business and be true entrepreneurs in this business category,” says AgLaunch Accelerator alumni Umer Adnan of Cowlar, Inc. maker of a smart collar for cows. “We feel like we are better entrepreneurs because of the experience.”

The AgLaunch Accelerator not only focuses on building entrepreneurs, but offers agriculture expertise, incubator type resources and a strong ag specific network. Paired with the natural resources of the Delta region, the AgLaunch Accelerator has the power to help launch the right startups into successful businesses.

“While working from downtown Memphis, startups will have access to a wide variety of entrepreneurial resources and services,” said Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch. “Yet entrepreneurs will be able to easily access farmland from their workspace, as AgLaunch is uniquely combining the startup world with the innovation and expertise of farmers.”

In addition to the 2017 accelerator teams, several teams that are further along in their business or product development cycle are participating in the AgLaunch Farmer Network. This AgLaunch program coordinates farm scale trials with new technologies across various production environments and key crops grown in the MidSouth region that includes six major commodities: corn, soybeans, cotton, rice, grain sorghum and wheat. Lead members of the Farmer Network include Ritter Agribusiness and Mid-South Family Farms.

Ritter Ag Supports Farm Innovation Through AgLaunch Partnership

Ritter Agribusiness is helping to bridge a gap between technology companies and farms by providing testing grounds for startups associated with the AgLaunch initiative.

Ritter Ag, based in the eastern Arkansas town of Marked Tree, owns about 32,000 acres of Mississippi Delta farmland and manages another 16,000 acres, said Kevin Wright, president, providing a diverse landscape on which tech startup companies can test their farm innovations in fields like precision agriculture, robotics, biologic-based pest control and supply chain integrity.

AgLaunch is a Memphis-based program that aims to connect agricultural researchers, entrepreneurs, corporations, nonprofit organizations, investors and farmers, in order to address farm and food supply chain needs, according to its website. It is run through a partnership between the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and focuses on companies within the U.S. Delta region. AgLaunch’s programs include the AgLaunch Accelerator, a three-month agriculture tech startup accelerator program.

Investment in farming innovation was a $3.2 billion industry in 2016. That’s according to AgFunder’s annual AgTech Investing Report and shows a decrease from an all-time high in 2015 at $4.6 billion.

It will soon announce its second cohort, and those six companies have to potential to receive up to $50,000 collectively in funding, business development support, mentorship and farm trials May 1-Aug. 10.

The AgLaunch Accelerator is funded in part through a grant from Launch Tennessee. More information is available by emailing brussell@aginnovationgroup.com.

AgLaunch also hosts events the Startup Station pitch competition, an all-day pitch contest held in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, which hosts more than 400 exhibitors and 20,000 farmers, according to the AgLaunch website.

The latest Startup Station event was in early March, and startups pitched to expert panels comprised of farmers, investors and corporate partners. Wright served on the panel for the March event.

Ritter Ag became involved with AgLaunch about two years ago, as lead participant in the organization’s Farmer Network.

“The relationship has evolved around the need for tech companies, at all stages, to have a better understanding of the pain points that today’s producers’ experience,” Wright said.

In addition to serving as a resource for testing with a certain land and crop mix, Ritter Ag also provides “critical feedback” to the startups in relation to product development, marketing and distribution channels, Wright said.

Arkansas State University has also partnered with AgLaunch, said Ty Keller, director of the program, A-State Innovate. For its part, ASU will provide access to its maker space, machine and wood shop and lab for companies chosen by AgLaunch to develop their technology. Researchers and entrepreneurs tied to the ASU also have participated in AgLaunch’s startup pitch competitions.

Agriculture is an important industry in Arkansas. About 45,000 farms (latest estimate, in 2012) brought in $1.3 billion in net income for 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

8 AgTech Accelerators That Are Changing The Game

arming has been the age-old way of making a living and keeping people working. It’s also very sustainable if you didn’t notice. But what many don’t realize is that agriculture technology has been blossoming in recent years. Big “Farma” companies, along with venture capital firmsand philanthropic organizations have been pouring money into startups that are producing new technology to make farming even more sustainable, profitable, and quality-oriented.

We might be prone to think that agtech is just about modifying the genetics of the plants we’re growing, but that is not the whole truth. There are startups that are developing drone technology specifically for farming and researchers creating living microbes that kill the pests that ruin the crops we eat. Agtech is really beginning to revolutionize farming, and it’s benefitting both the farmer and the consumer in a big way.

Since agtech is growing in potential, accelerators and incubators are sprouting up to make innovation easier. They are giving fertile ground to entrepreneurs by providing technical assistance, mentoring, networking, and resource access. In doing this, agtech accelerators are allowing new technology and innovation to enter into the market at breakneck speed. Check out a few burgeoning agtech accelerators below:

AgLaunch Accelerator

AgLaunch is a 15 week accelerator that will start on May 1. AgLaunch will take six different startups and provide them with up to $50,000 in investment as well as provide them with mentorship, training and other resources.

AgTech Accelerator

AgTech Accelerator strives to be unique by taking a hands-on approach to helping startups. Companies that participate in this accelerator will be exposed to a number of resources including incubation and additional research.

Agthentic

Though it’s not an accelerator, Agthentic helps agtech startups by refining their product-market fit and prepare them for potential investors. Agthentic helps startups jump the initial hurdles that end up compromising the success of any startup.

FARM2050

FARM2050 focuses on improving global food production. They bring together farmers, researchers, entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and distributors in order to bring new technology to fruition and break them into the market.

Royse AgTech Innovation Network

Royse AgTech connects startups with a network of investors, partners, and markets. They also host conferences that help train and connect agtech startups with other companies, farmers, and investors.

Sprout Agritech

Every year, Sprout picks eight startups to help out. They provide $25,000 in exchange for equity, training and mentorship, and access to investor groups across the globe.

Thrive 

Thrive is an eight week accelerator that connects tech companies with the agriculture community, investors, and innovative entrepreneurs. Thrive forges these communities together in order to advance the cause of bringing more and better food to the world.

Yield Lab

Yield Lab started out of a desire to strengthen global food security. They believe that agricultural production must increase by 60% by 2050 to meet food demand. They provide $100,000 in funding to burgeoning startups as well as a nine month program geared toward mentorship and market preparation.

 

AgLaunch propelling new startups through venture investment & farm-centric innovation model

Applications open for 2017 accelerator with $50,000 investment.

AgLaunch continues to expand its farm-centric innovation platform to accelerate the process of bringing new ideas into agriculture. The organization offers a one-stop shop for researchers, farmers, logistic providers, processors, non-profits, investors and corporate partners to help validate and grow new ideas in the agricultural space. The initiative is focused on the Mid-South region with an international footprint through its open source programs and support network.

“With a growing world population, agriculture must advance and adapt to keep up,” Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton said.  “Farmers are natural innovators.  AgLaunch’s farm-focused model is matching farmers with new and improved technology and resources to help solve global problems, while catalyzing economic growth in our region.”

 

AgLaunch is pleased to announce three programs in 2017 that will advance agricultural innovation to the next level:

  • AgLaunch Accelerator will invest $50,000 and three months of intensive business development support, access to farm trials, and a robust mentor network to six startup companies. Participating startups will be immersed in a collaborative Summer of Acceleration experience in Memphis with six other business accelerators May 1- Aug. 10. Entrepreneurial programming is supported through the expertise of EPIcenter and Start Co., a member of the Global Accelerator Network that has led more than 80 startup companies. Startups will also have access to expert agri-marketing and legal advice provided by Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson respectively. The AgLaunch Accelerator is funded in part through a grant from Launch Tennessee.

 

  • AgLaunch Farmer Network is working with a select group of startups to coordinate farm scale trials with new technologies across various production environments and key crops. Lead participants in the farmer network include Ritter Agribusiness and Mid-South Family Farms.

 

  • AgLaunch Startup Station is an all-day pitch contest held on March 3 in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, which hosts more than 400 exhibitors and 20,000 farmers. Startups will pitch to expert panels comprised of farmers, investors, and corporate partners, including Farm Bureau, Farm Credit, DuPont, Monsanto Growth Ventures, and Case IH. The event will be preceded by The Combine reception the evening of March 2.

These AgLaunch initiatives focus on a range of technologies, including precision agriculture, robotics, automation, biologic-based pest control, specialty crops, equipment modifications, food ingredients, supply chain integrity and traceability, soil health, reduction of spray drift, food safety and reduction of food waste, water/input efficiencies and innovations in the supply chain.

“AgLaunch has a global network that includes mentors, investors, growers and ag industry leaders,” said Steve Bares, Ph.D., president and executive director, Memphis Bioworks Foundation. “Memphis provides the perfect opportunity to connect with all these assets, as farmers are a short drive away, investors are down the road, and entrepreneurial training and mentors are in-house. The Mississippi River offers convenient logistics, and our unique geographical location allows for incredibly diverse agriculture opportunities.”

The program adds value to investors through creating quality deal flow. “AgLaunch is uniquely connecting new technology with real farm experience to change the way that deals are being created for the benefit of investors and the ag industry,” said Matt Bell, Principal, Cultivian Sandbox Ventures.

AgLaunch helps startups through its combination of entrepreneurship programming and deep agricultural knowledge. “AgLaunch is a world-class initiative that is connecting all of the right partners and resources to bring new agricultural technologies to market,” said Barry Knight, Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations, North America, Indigo Ag.

AgLaunch Adds Three More Programs For Ag Startups

Memphis Bioworks AgTech Launches Three More Programs

AgTech and Agriculture Startups are on the rise nationwide. There are a handful of AgTech accelerators across the country and that trend seems to be on the rise.

Memphis is known for it’s grit and grind entrepreneurial spirit and that doesn’t change when it comes to farming. The newest AgLaunch programs focus on the midsouth region.

AgLaunch continues to expand its farm-centric innovation platform to accelerate the process of bringing new ideas into agriculture. The organization offers a one-stop shop for researchers, farmers, logistic providers, processors, non-profits, investors and corporate partners to help validate and grow new ideas in the agricultural space.

“With a growing world population, agriculture must advance and adapt to keep up,” Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton said. “Farmers are natural innovators. AgLaunch’s farm-focused model is matching farmers with new and improved technology and resources to help solve global problems, while catalyzing economic growth in our region.”

AgLaunch announced three programs in 2017 that will advance agricultural innovation to the next level:

  • AgLaunch Accelerator will invest $50,000 and three months of intensive business development support, access to farm trials and a robust mentor network to six startup companies. Participating startups will be immersed in a collaborative Summer of Acceleration experience in Memphis with six other business accelerators May 1 to Aug. 10. Entrepreneurial programming is supported through the expertise of EPIcenter and Start Co., a member of the Global Accelerator Network that has led more than 80 startup companies. Startups also will have access to expert agri-marketing and legal advice provided by Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson respectively. The AgLaunch Accelerator is funded in part through a grant from Launch Tennessee.
  • AgLaunch Farmer Network is working with a select group of startups to coordinate farm scale trials with new technologies across various production environments and key crops. Lead participants in the farmer network include Ritter Agribusiness and Mid-South Family Farms.
  • AgLaunch Startup Station is an all-day pitch contest held on March 3 in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm and Gin Show, which hosts more than 400 exhibitors and 20,000 farmers. Startups will pitch to expert panels comprised of farmers, investors and corporate partners, including Farm Bureau, Farm Credit, DuPont, Monsanto Growth Ventures and Case IH. The event will be preceded by The Combine reception the evening of March 2.

These AgLaunch initiatives focus on a range of technologies, including precision agriculture, robotics, automation, biologic-based pest control, specialty crops, equipment modifications, food ingredients, supply chain integrity and traceability, soil health, reduction of spray drift, food safety and reduction of food waste, water/input efficiencies and innovations in the supply chain.

 

AgLaunch Looking to Fund New Ideas for Mid-South Farming

AgLaunch continues to expand its farm-centric innovation platform to accelerate the process of bringing new ideas into agriculture, according to a press release from the Memphis, TN-based startup incubator.

The organization offers a one-stop shop for researchers, farmers, logistic providers, processors, non-profits, investors and corporate partners to help validate and grow new ideas in the agricultural space. The initiative is focused on the Mid-South region with an international footprint through its open source programs and support network.

“With a growing world population, agriculture must advance and adapt to keep up,” Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Jai Templeton said. “Farmers are natural innovators. AgLaunch’s farm-focused model is matching farmers with new and improved technology and resources to help solve global problems, while catalyzing economic growth in our region.”

AgLaunch is pleased to announce three programs in 2017 that will advance agricultural innovation to the next level:

  • AgLaunch Accelerator will invest $50,000 and three months of intensive business development support, access to farm trials, and a robust mentor network to six startup companies. Participating startups will be immersed in a collaborative Summer of Acceleration experience in Memphis with six other business accelerators May 1- August 10. Entrepreneurial programming is supported through the expertise of EPIcenter and Start Co., a member of the Global Accelerator Network that has led more than 80 startup companies. Startups will also have access to expert agri-marketing and legal advice provided by Archer Malmo and Baker Donelson respectively.
  • AgLaunch Farmer Network is working with a select group of startups to coordinate farm scale trials with new technologies across various production environments and key crops. Lead participants in the farmer network include Ritter Agribusiness and Mid-South Family Farms.
  • AgLaunch Startup Station is an all-day pitch contest held on March 3 in conjunction with the Mid-South Farm & Gin Show, which hosts more than 400 exhibitors and 20,000 farmers. Startups will pitch to expert panels comprised of farmers, investors, and corporate partners, including Farm Bureau, Farm Credit, DuPont, Monsanto Growth Ventures, and Case IH. The event will be preceded by The Combine reception the evening of March 2.

These AgLaunch initiatives focus on a range of technologies, including precision agriculture, robotics, automation, biologic-based pest control, specialty crops, equipment modifications, food ingredients, supply chain integrity and traceability, soil health, reduction of spray drift, food safety and reduction of food waste, water/input efficiencies and innovations in the supply chain.

“AgLaunch has a global network that includes mentors, investors, growers and ag industry leaders,” said Steve Bares, Ph.D., president and executive director, Memphis Bioworks Foundation. “Memphis provides the perfect opportunity to connect with all these assets, as farmers are a short drive away, investors are down the road, and entrepreneurial training and mentors are in-house. The Mississippi River offers convenient logistics, and our unique geographical location allows for incredibly diverse agriculture opportunities.”

The program adds value to investors through creating quality deal flow. “AgLaunch is uniquely connecting new technology with real farm experience to change the way that deals are being created for the benefit of investors and the ag industry,” said Matt Bell, Principal, Cultivian Sandbox Ventures.

AgLaunch helps startups through its combination of entrepreneurship programming and deep agricultural knowledge. “AgLaunch is a world-class initiative that is connecting all of the right partners and resources to bring new agricultural technologies to market,” said Barry Knight, Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations, North America, Indigo Ag.

The AgLaunch Accelerator is funded in part through a grant from Launch Tennessee.

How Tennessee Plans to Become a Hotbed for Agtech Innovation

“Ag innovation and business creation have the potential to transform our rural economy more than anything else. We’ve got to be a player if we’re going to fully participate in the growing world demand for food, fuel and fiber. With this funding, we expect to incentivize private investment while making Tennessee a center for agricultural advancement,” said Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture Julius Johnson in a press release announcing the state’s new initiative for agriculture technology entrepreneurs.

The state’s department of agriculture is launching a seed funding initiative called AgLaunch designed to put Tennessee on the map as a hub for agtech innovation and entrepreneurship. The department will invest $150,000 initially, alongside a further $70,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the ultimate aim is to raise $10 million from the private sector to fund the program during its initial five year phase, according to Venture Tennessee Connectionsa local business news site.

AgLaunch is being developed by Memphis Bioworks Foundation under the impetus of Governor Bill Haslam’s Rural Challenge, a 10-year strategy to expand the agricultural and forestry sectors of Tennessee’s economy, currently valued at $66 billion.

The initiative’s goal is to attract 200 entrepreneurs and establish 100 successful and investable agricultural-sector companies in Tennessee by 2020. According to the initiative’s website, ideal candidates for participation in the program are high-growth, investable companies in agriculture that encourage a culture of entrepreneurship within rural communities while focusing on strategic assets.

On August 20, 2015, entrepreneurs, investors, and government officials convened in West Tennessee to learn about the seed funding announcement.

“Venture capital investment in agriculture grew by 170 percent from 2013 to 2014 to $2.4 billion and is projected to have another large jump in 2015,” Memphis Bioworks’ president and executive director Steve Bares said in a recent press release, stating figures from AgFunder’s recent Midyear Report. “That investment is driving innovation-based startup companies to seek out locations like Tennessee. AgLaunch aims to draw those companies to the state, while also identifying and supporting locally-grown ideas from Tennessee’s farmers, entrepreneurs and universities.”

The foundation’s reputation for bringing entrepreneurs to the medical technology marketplace played a key part in state and federal agriculture leaders’ decision to tap the company for the initiative, according to the release.

Once the program is funded, which program leaders hopes to accomplish by July 2016, AgLaunch will set about achieving its four goals: expanding the state’s vertical agriculture market, integration with Launch Tennessee regional accelerators, promoting job growth in rural Tennessee, and operating as a key development component of a Rural Business Investment Company with USDA and Farm Credit Banks. This last goal could help AgLaunch secure as much as $40 million in early-stage investment capital for rural Tennessee.

Housed at the TDA offices, the program will also partner with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development in addition to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, which is the state’s premier agricultural research institution.

Tennessee’s agriculture and forestry industry is valued at around $66 billion, with soybeans, corn, and livestock production representing the state’s largest agriculture commodities. With over 67,000 farming operations and close to 11 million acres of land dedicated to agriculture production, entrepreneurs participating in the program will have plenty of chances to collaborate with farm professionals and test their products in the field.