• Jaime Hammerich

7 Accelerators Building the AgTech Ecosystem



Starting something new is difficult.


Even the savviest of entrepreneurs with a good idea still face adversity.


If this was easy, everyone would do it. Right?


So what do you do when you have a good idea and the drive to see it come to life, but you just can’t seem to get to that next level?


Ideally, you find resources in a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem. In this case “ecosystem” refers to resources, advisers, mentors, investors, supporters, and collaborators. Entering this ecosystem gives you access to these important elements of trying to build your company.


Recently, on the “Future of Agriculture” Podcast we did a series called “Accelerating AgTech”. Over several episodes, we profiled various ag-related startups and the accelerator programs that helped make them successful. Hopefully you read the blog posts about the startups themselves. Below you will find seven of the accelerator-type programs that were featured as well.

First you should know:

  • These are not ranked, just in order of appearance on podcast.

  • This is not meant to be a comprehensive list. These are just the seven programs that we were able to highlight on the podcast.

TERRA


TERRA Accelerator was founded as a collaboration between RaboBank and RocketSpace. The five month program “exists to advance the well-being of people and planets by fueling groundbreaking transformation in the food and ag industry”.


TERRA touts their network as well as their commitment to being outcome-driven and open to experimentation as their key differentiators.


They are looking for food and ag startups that already have a proof of concept, and received 470 applicants for their third cohort.


Abi Ramanan, who has been featured on the podcast and this blog, took her company Impact Vision through the program.


Village Capital


Village Capital was founded based on the experience of allowing villagers in developing countries to decide who among them should receive aid funding. It was observed that these projects were more successful than those where funds were distributed by an outside organization


Founder Ross Baird decided to apply this approach to startups by forming Village Capital. Senior Associate Alex Arrivillaga describes their unique approach “We run programs to train entrepreneurs to think like investors.”


The four month program admits 12 companies per year. After receiving this investor training, each cohort of founders decides which of their peers receives funding.

Tony Bova and Jeff Beegle of mobius went through the program. They were featured both on the podcast and this blog.


Village Capital is looking for companies focused on sustainability metrics, food waste and the circular economy, and healthier foods. They take an equity stake, so are looking for companies that are currently raising funds. They describe their approach as investor friendly, and even offer the option of a convertible note.


AgLaunch


AgLaunch is a non-profit based out of Memphis, Tennessee, that primarily works with farmers throughout the Mississippi Delta region (TN, AR, KY, MS, MO). They have since expanded around the country to help commercialize early stage technology for the benefit of farmers.


The core focus of AgLaunch is to partner with farmers so that every technology they support is solving a real farm-related problem. They run boot camps or longer 90-day accelerator programs. The farmer network allows growers to participate in field trials, screen new deals, help make investment decisions, and ensure relevancy of every program they work on.


AgLaunch is supported by investors such as Innova Memphis, which is a $31M fund backed by the farm credit system. Their portfolio is a bit of a “who’s who” among former Future of Agriculture guests including AgriSync, mobius, Rabbit Tractors, and SwineTech.

Pete Nelson is the President and Executive Director of AgLaunch. I enjoyed the interview with Pete so much, I wanted to make it a full length podcast interview. You can find that audio below.


Iowa AgriTech Accelerator


Located in Des Moines, the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator is a 100 day accelerator program. But don’t let the name fool you, they are open to new startups from anywhere in the world.


They consider themselves a mentor-driven program, with 130 individuals who represent expertise all along the agricultural value chain. These mentors as well as their entrepreneurs-in-residence help guide the startups through everything from customer discovery to go-to-market strategy to management issues to building pitch decks.

The program culminates in a demo day that happens in conjunction with the World Food Prize event every year in Des Moines. Rabbit Tractors, who has been on the podcast, is a graduate of the program.


The Iowa AgriTech Accelerator is generally looking for early stage (pre-revenue) startups, who are coachable, flexible and willing to relocate to Des Moines at least for the 100 day duration of the program. But you may even love it there and decide to stay!

Applicants need to also be passionate about the issue they solve and have an elegant solution to bring to the market. Learn more about the Iowa AgriTech Accelerator at www.AgIowa.com.

Hatch


Hatch is the world’s first aquaculture-only accelerator. Their first program was based in Bergen, Norway, the center of commercial salmon farming. Their second cohort was based in Ireland, with the third planned for southeast Asia.


The accelerator is truly global. Their first cohort contained eight companies from seven different countries. The three month program does require the companies to be on site for mentorship, networking, and development. Due to the narrow focus just on aquaculture, there is a lot of synergies created amongst startups when they all get together.


Some of the innovations have included lab-grown fish, aggregating environmental data, accounting software, marketplaces, and traceability.


Hatch estimates there are probably 300–500 aquaculture-related startups around the world that might qualify for the program, but they hope to see that number grow.

The accelerator is especially interested in finding startups with effective feed solutions, and those that are just generally motivated to scale this industry.


Ag Startup Engine


Ag Startup Engine provides seed capital, mentorship, and networking for connections to early(ish) stage companies. Typically they help companies that are just coming out of an accelerator, most of which come from Iowa State University’s Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative.


This initiative is intended to fill the gap between ideation and execution. Director Kevin Kimle and others were noticing students with interesting business ideas were abandoning them upon graduation due to lack of resources available to give them a try.

Joel Harris is the Co-Director of the Ag Startup Engine. A successful entrepreneur himself, he now enjoys offering resources to other entrepreneurs. Joel’s role is to facilitate deal flow. They are looking for agtech-focused startups with a strong business case and their customer already dialed in. Many startups are attracted to their strong network of potential customers, partners, mentors, and investors in Iowa.


Ten years ago, Joel and his father started Harris Vaccines. They were the first to commercialize a vaccine for porcine epidemic diarrhea, and the first to develop a USDA stockpile vaccine against avian influenza. The company successfully exited to Merck Animal Health, and Joel has an abundance of wisdom to pass along to other entrepreneurs.


The Yield Lab


The Yield Lab was started by Thad Simons — former CEO of Novus. Thad and colleagues realized that traditional tech accelerators were not fully meeting the needs of innovators in agriculture.


In 2015, The Yield Lab raised their first fund, $2.7M invested across 17 startups. All of those companies are still alive today, which is impressive. Those 17 startups have gone on to raise over $90M collectively.


The Yield Lab program is spread out over one year. There are six in-person sessions that are two days each. The primary focus is on providing connectivity, networking, and guidance. This can be in the form of customers, investors, collaborators, or mentors. There are some programatic elements as well, but those are usually tailored to the specific needs of the individuals in that cohort.


They do consider themselves to be an impact fund. If the startup scales, they want to know what direct environmental or social impact the company will have. This, in their opinion, is complimentary to making a profit.


The Yield Lab defines agtech in the broadest of senses, and are open to any applicants solving important problems along the agricultural value chain. They invest $100,000 up front, which is negotiated on a case by case basis.


Due to success in the U.S., The Yield Lab is expanding to Ireland, Argentina, and Asia. This will increase their access to deal flow and their portfolio companies’ access to new global markets.


As mentioned above, this is not meant to be a comprehensive list of agtech accelerators. However, I think these seven programs give a good look into the impactful resources that are available to today’s agricultural entrepreneurs.


New ideas take time to develop, especially in an industry that you often only get one crop per year. These programs are essential for getting new ideas off the ground that will hopefully lead to a better agricultural industry in the future.