First All-Out AgLaunch Startup Portfolio Showcase + Field Day Hits the Mark
Entrepreneurs, Investors and Farmers Gather for Immersive AgTech Experience
For the first time, 16 AgLaunch portfolio agtech startups were featured in one place at one time across different presentation formats in a showcase of agriculture industry-changing technologies.
The AgLaunch Startup Portfolio Showcase + Field Day held Aug. 16 at Agricenter International in Memphis was a resounding success thanks to more than 100 entrepreneurs, investors, farmers, industry experts, and key partners that attended the exclusive in-person event.
Prior to the Showcase, participating entrepreneurs were treated to a professional development workshop relevant in today’s fast growing machine learning business environment. Called “How to use automation and AI to scale your business,” the course was an essential primer presented by Alane Boyd, President, Arvo by BGBO Co.
The Showcase kicked off with a welcome from AgLaunch president Pete Nelson, who shared his vision of the AgLaunch farm-centric innovation model and the delivery of entrepreneurial support through five regional partnerships across the country.
“We’re building something special that’s has never been done before – underpinning innovation and entrepreneurship with a network of farmers who have a vested interest in the startup’s success,” said Nelson. “This kind of farmer-led innovation will lead to true change in how we do agriculture and deploy climate-smart technologies, and it will transform communities around stronger regional food systems.”
In a day that included pitches, live demonstrations, and field visits, it was an interactive experience in technologies ranging from biologics and robotics to AI driven software and pest and plant disease monitoring platforms.
Participants not only got a firsthand look at groundbreaking technologies, but more importantly they got to meet the men and women behind them. People like Michael Cully of Susterre and Maria Labreveux of Lepidext.
Lepidext was founded by Dr. Angelika Fath-Goodin and Dr. Bruce Webb, who realized that a strain of a naturally-occurring corn earworm virus that caused fewer latent cases would have potential as a biocontrol for the corn earwormLepidext has been in the AgLaunch program since 2020.
The AgLaunch program has been critical to Lepidext’s success. Lepidext was founded after the discovery of an insect virus that sterilizes the pest (the corn earworm). However, determining how to use that technology in a farming situation is very much driven by how the farmer needs to use it, how the farmer controls the pest, or how the farmer cannot control the pest. Also, identifying what’s going to be our beachhead market is information we definitely obtained through the Farmer Network.
– Maria Labreveaux
More than a dozen farmers from several states, some new to and some experienced in the AgLaunch farm-centric innovation model, got a chance to engage directly with founders during the Showcase.
A large delegation of Kentucky farmers was led by Murray State University School of Agriculture Dean-Emeritus Dr. Tony Brannon. Brannon also serves at the new Ag Initiative Facilitator for the West Kentucky Alliance for a Vibrant Economy (WAVE). The group was there to learn about the AgLaunch farmers network and farm-trial platform.
“The showcase in and of itself was an innovation accelerator. I was privileged to bring a group of progressive, young farmers and they were amazed and energized,” said Brannon. “Many of them commented that it was the best field day they had been to in years. They engaged with the portfolio companies and gained a unique perspective leading them to want to be further involved in the AgLaunch farmer-led innovation model.”
Several long-time partners representing tens of millions of dollars in investment funds attended the Portfolio Showcase + Field Day where they were able to engage founders and their technologies beyond the typical pitch format for real-world context.
Spencer Stensrude serves as CEO of Ag Ventures Alliance and represents Countryside Angels. “There were 15 credible startups in one place, and I can’t think of another event where you can see customers – future customers – reacting to these startups and their products in real time. It’s a direct line to the future of agtech. For investors that want to be first to emerging trends and opportunities in agriculture, this was a can’t-miss event.”
The World Wildlife Fund is collaborating with AgLaunch and other organizations to develop a strategy for diversifying agriculture production in the Mid-South for a stronger food system and ecological benefits.
“This event is worthwhile and a really great way to see a lot of technology and startups and hear from farmers who have worked with those companies,” said Schuyler Dalton, WWF Regenerative Agriculture Impact Investing Manager. “I think the inclusion of farmer network farmers talking about their partnerships was so great.”
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture, a long-time partner and early funder of farm trials conducted in support of AgLaunch portfolio startups, was represented by Assistant Commissioner Carol McDonald, who explained the reason behind the agency’s commitment.
“It was more important that we build the state’s reputation as the place for ag innovation and give our farmers a voice and platform for determining their own future,” said McDonald. “Today, we’re beginning to see the benefits of our investments come full circle. Some of those early startups are now operating in Tennessee and other states, generating revenue, creating jobs and providing a service to farmers, who in some cases have equity ownership in those startups.”
Launch Tennessee, another key state partner for AgLaunch, provides technical assistance, funding opportunities, and network support for entrepreneurs with a significant presence in the state. Launch Tennessee was represented by Innovation Manager Charles Layne and Capital Coordinator Ziggy Allenlundy.
Oklahoma Farm Bureau
Oklahoma Farm Bureau represents AgLaunch’s newest partnership expansion into the Southern Plains. OFB Rural Innovation Coordinator Amarie Bartel is leading ag innovation efforts in the region
Oklahoma Farm Bureau is grateful to be represented not only as an organization, but also through our membership’s participation via the AgLaunch farmer network, in a farmer-first innovation model,” said Bartel. “After attending the Showcase and Field Day, it has become increasingly apparent that the work done through AgLaunch will advance farms in our state and in our country, as every innovation knits together to create more economical and efficient operations.
– Amarie Bartel
A special thanks goes to Agricenter International and Chairman Mark Pryor, President John Butler and the farm team led by Dr. Bruce Kirksey for hosting the Showcase and providing farm-trial support at the nation’s largest urban research farm.
The purpose of the Showcase was to put the AgLaunch farmer-led innovation model on full display and to facilitate direct interaction among founders, farmers, investors, and partners. Margaret Oldham, AgLaunch Vice President of Innovation, and her team produced the Showcase.
“This day was planned so that investors could see how farmer input is shaping the future of agriculture through these innovative startups,” said Oldham. “We hope this inspires more farmers to take an active role in innovation and that our funders see the value of their investment. We’d like to see even more investors take an active role in our next Showcase to experience the synergy between farmers and startups. It’s rewarding to hear farmers so excited about technology!”
What's Next . . .
Applications closed Sept. 4 for the 2024 cohort of AgLaunch’s signature program, AgLaunch365 Accelerator. AgLaunch365 is a farm-immersive business development experience for startups with a product or service that has the potential to be transformative in production agriculture.
Following a review of applications, finalists will be invited to “Challenge” week in late October and early November, where they will refine their value proposition and make a pitch before a panel of AgLaunch farmers.
Up to 10 startups will be selected for next year’s program, which includes six weeks of comprehensive business coaching and two years of follow-on farm trial support. The 2024 AgLaunch365 cohort will be announced in December.