New AgTech Meetup Launches in Perth

The AgTech bug has spread west with the launch of Australias newest AgTech Meeetup in Perth.

It is still early days however, Agtech Perth's organiser Dave Newman is looking for a host location. Once that is locked down they will being to promote their first event. Get in touch if you have any hookups because there is already 60 Agtechies waiting to attend. 

 

Check out the Meetup page here for more information.

AgriWebb honoured at Australian Information Industry Association iAwards

This article originally appeared on The Weekly Times. Check out the original here.

By LYNDAL READING

A FARM software company was awarded national start-up of the year at the Australian Information Industry Association iAwards yesterday.

AgriWebb, which collects and uses data to increase profitability and transparency, was recognised at the awards after winning the Victorian award earlier this year.

The business also received a merit award in the industrial and primary industries section.

It is one of two agriculture companies to win awards.

Automed won mobility innovation of the year, Victorian Government Inspiration of the Year award and the industrial and primary industries award.

Automed is a system offering automatic and accurate livestock medication.

It can scan animals, dose them with preset drugs and record all data using mobile phones to synchronise with the Cloud.

One Entrepreneur’s Mission to Promote Rural Agriculture Innovation in Australia

This great little read originally appeared on AgFunder News. Written by our new friend Sarah Nolet from AgThentic

Dianna Somerville

Dianna Somerville

Dianna Somerville is on a mission to promote a culture of agriculture innovation in Australia, and agtech is at the core. Based out of Wagga Wagga, or just Wagga to the locals, which is an inland city between Sydney and Melbourne, Somerville is particularly focused on promoting innovation in rural and regional Australia. She has started multiple companies and launched various initiatives to educate, motivate, and empower regional entrepreneurs. She is bringing the best of disruption culture, from hackathons, to pitch events, to angel investing, to create and equip future generations of innovators as well as showcase innovations from existing regional businesses.

Somerville’s work in Wagga illustrates that agriculture innovation in Australia can, and probably has to, occur outside of big cities and established innovation hubs.

We caught up with her to hear more about her work.

 

Tell me about some of your initiatives to promote agriculture innovation in Australia and what they mean for agtech entrepreneurship.

We have launched a pitch competition, entrepreneurship program, hackathon, and a network to connect angel investors. The first Regional Pitch Fest took place this July. We had a total of $10k in prize money, and a judging panel of entrepreneurs and investors, as well as an audience choice award. I had seen pitch competitions in Sydney and wanted to bring the concept to regional Australia. For me, it wasn’t just about technology, but also about showcasing how existing regional businesses were innovating.

To further support regional entrepreneurship, we created the Regional Opportunities for Entrepreneurs (ROPE) program. This program sends regional entrepreneurs to Sydney, Melbourne, or Canberra to learn entrepreneurship best practices. And, while they travel, the regional entrepreneurs can share with the world what regional Australia is doing. This is especially important for agriculture, where we need to close adoption gap in agtech.

We have also recently launched Bush Angels, a virtual network connecting angel investors focused on agriculture and sustainability with rural businesses looking to raise capital. Currently, the platform educates people about how angel investing works, including the potential risks and upsides. Finally, this September we will hold our first AgriHack. This hackathon is focused on solving challenges in the grains industry.

How does AgriHack work, and why is it different from other agtech innovation events?

The format for AgriHack was inspired by existing hackathons, but has been adapted to address specific challenges in agriculture. There are three main parts: educational, technological, and social. The educational component is intended to equip the next generation of agtech entrepreneurs. During the hackathon, we will be educating primary school aged kids about both agriculture and technology. The technological and social components will function more like traditional hackathons. Each will feature an industry-relevant challenge, and multi-disciplinary teams of students, designers, industry experts, growers, and engineers will compete over 48 hours to win a cash prize. The social theme for this year is female mental health; we are still confirming a grains industry partner to seed the technical challenge.

Though this year will focus on the grains industry, the vision is to expand the event to other sectors, such as livestock, in future years.

What’s so special about rural and regional Australia, and is this new?

There’s more and more innovation happening in rural and regional Australia recently, but farmers have always been innovators. There’s a lot of hype about the need to bring innovation ‘back to the region,’ but what I’m saying is that it’s already happening here; just come have a look.

I have been fortunate to have other entrepreneurs around me and other innovation initiatives to leverage, like the WorkingSpaces HQ. This co-working space is my office, and the birthplace of AgTribe, an agtech startup that allows farmers to rent and share expensive farming equipment. Co-working spaces like ours create an environment that helps everyone to do better. There are good people, events, support, and plenty of inspiration. Our community is proving that you can be an innovator in regional Australia.

It’s especially exciting to notice that many of these initiatives are supported by, or run by, women, many of whom are farmer’s wives. This provides a diversified stream of income for the farms, while simultaneously leveraging extensive domain expertise so that innovations are grounded in reality and companies are formed to solve real problems.

Is it working? How has the community responded?

Our initial goal has been to educate the community by broadening their perspective on what the possibilities are for innovation. A big aspect of this is teaching the language and terms of innovation. Not everyone is familiar with the startup lingo, like “hackathon”, but after I explained what this was, the community has responded extremely positively. We’ve gotten media coverage and events have been packed.

Another example is the pitch event. The general community here didn’t know what a “pitch” was. But the feedback after the first Regional Pitch Fest event, which had over 100 people in the room and over 600 on the live stream, was hugely positive. Many people came up to me and said, “I have an idea and I can’t wait to participate next year.”

We have also already seen some great examples of agtech startups coming out of rural and regional Australia, such as AgTribeSilicon Paddock, and AgDraft.

What does the future look like for rural and regional agriculture innovation in Australia, and for you?

Innovation is the very much the flavor of the month right now in Australia, especially with the recent government innovation initiative. And agtech especially is getting attention as the innovation community sees it as an untapped area. It’s not clear if the hype will last, but my goal is to build sustainable innovation infrastructure around agriculture that will last beyond the hype. Initiatives like AgriHack will have to evolve and change, for example to focus on relevant issues and make sure we have the right people in the room as sponsors and to provide pressing challenges that we can work to solve. Right now, I’m focused on this year’s AgriHack in the grains industry, but in future years I will expand to other commodities. And we’re building everything to scale beyond Wagga to other regional communities across Australia.

We’re also launching an incubator program called 35 Degrees Incubator. Our goal is to help rural communities address challenges in agriculture, as well as diversify out of agriculture to find ways to make money on the side of farming. Participants will have to apply with an idea to get into the program, which will include face-to-face support, virtual training, events, and a final ‘demo day’. Aspiring entrepreneurs will come away from the incubator knowing both what is possible and what it takes to make an idea into a business.

As for me, whatever I can do to promote innovation in the region, that’s what I’ll be doing. After 14 years in the public sector, the innovation world is a blast. There’s no red tape and you can get so much done. I’m excited to share this with others in the region and get them involved.

 

Check out the original article on AgFunder News. Written by Sarah Nolet from AgThentic

AgFunder Releases its Mid-Year Investing Report 2016

Agtech funding reached $1.75 billion during the first half of 2016 with 307 deals. The top-line investment level represents a 20% year-over-year decline from H1-2015, while the numbers of deals increased 7% from H1-2015. This pullback in Agtech largely mirrored the broader venture capital market, which declined over two consecutive halves.

Download the full report here.

Australia’s Venture Capital Industry Needs to Catch Up with Local Agri-Food Innovation

Agri-food technology innovation has begun to emerge as the new hot topic in the Australian startup scene, but if it wants to truly break through, the conversation between the big multinationals and government agencies needs to shift to include the agile startups supported by risk tolerant and globally connected angel and VC investors.

There is no denying that there is something stirring in the agri-food startup space down under. Since the beginning of the year, we have seen Australia’s first FoodTech hackathon run by the Sydney-based Food Tech Aus Meetup and the launch of the ambitious 400M initiative out of Toowoomba in Queensland who are staking their claim as the rural center of agtech innovation in Asia Pacific. The well-funded SproutX agri-tech coworking space and accelerator program by Findex and theNational Farmers Federation digital strategy has been announced, and when it launches later in the year is promising to be the home of this emerging startup ecosystem in Australia. In the wake of this announcement, Melbourne has seen the launch of two new agriculture technology meetups (AgTech Victoria and AgriTech Melbourne) as well as the food specific Food Tech Meetup. 

The timing is right for the emergence of a vibrant agri-food startup scene in Australia, which is being driven by two main factors.

Agri-food innovation drivers

The first is the new government-led push to develop Australia into an ‘Innovation Nation’ based on learnings from leading global innovation hubs such as Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. The $1.1 billion National Innovation & Science and Agendainitiative aims to support and build the startup ecosystem with accelerators, incubators, and overseas startups landing pads, incentivized investment through modified tax laws, and an increased focus on STEM in the education system.

The second driver is the slowdown in the mining sector, which has been driving the Australian economy over the past 15 years. This has caused cashed-up mining investors to look at alternative industries to invest their winnings and has been coined the ‘Mining to Dining’ shift. This transition has seen high profile Australian mining magnates making large investments in agriculture such as Andrew Forrest (Fortescue Metals Group) buying into Harvey Beef and Minderoo Station and Gina Rinehart’s (Hancock Prospecting) recent purchase of Riveren and Inverway cattle stations. When combined these two major drivers have the potential to create the perfect storm for the agri-food startup scene to boom in Australia.

It was against this backdrop that AusBiotech, the peak national industry body for biotech in Australia, hosted the first symposium specifically focused on food and agricultural technology. The event was held last week in Brisbane and was well attended with over 140 big names from the biotech space. They included delegates from the CSIRO — Australia’s national scientific research body, large agricultural corporations, even larger multinational agribusiness, government representatives, major industry groups and universities from around the country. There were some impressive presentations from top researchers and industry leaders.

Leading agri-food research

Dr Martin Cole, director of CSIRO Food & Nutrition Future Flagship, presented the latest work in developing plants that grow oil in their leaves and canola crops that produce Omega-3 making it suitable for aquaculture feed. Sam Gill, manager of beef genetics at Meat & Livestock Australia, spoke about biometric sensors on cattle and ultrasound imaging of sheep for real time meat and fat composition. Prof Michael Jones, director of the WA State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre, spoke of herbicide-spraying quadcopter drones with 10-liter payloads and robot-operated hydroponic vertical farms, just to name a few. It was hard for anyone in the audience not to feel optimistic about the future of food if the professors in the room were going to have anything to do with it.

So the timing is right, and there is no doubt that Australia has world-leading science and research institutions doing cutting edge work. But that on its own will not be enough to justify the hype surrounding agri-food tech innovation or help it gather momentum.

The most noticeable absence at the recent AusBiotech Ag & Food Symposium was a large number of startups and early stage VCs. Together they represent an important missing chunk of the ecosystem which is vital if the research that is happening in the universities and CSIRO is going to find the business smarts and funding that will make them a commercial success out in the big bad world.

Why are local agri-food startups absent?

An explanation for this noticeable absence emerged during the panel discussion on investment, where some of the event’s only startups sat.

Michael Whitehead of Agribusiness Insights at ANZ Bank opened with a speech about the abundant private capital that was available globally for good agri-food tech ventures, encouraging the room to attend the global agriculture conferences to find the right funding.

Randy Milne, CEO of Perkii spoke about their recent $4 million raise to take his company’s patented probiotic water drink to market in Australia. They plan to perfect the product and capture comprehensive data on their target market before heading overseas where the real dollars are to raise their series A to take them global.

Rob Neely, chairman of Integrated Animal Health, which specializes in repurposing human health products for use in the animal health industry, announced their recent successful $15 million Series B raise. Rob shared his chalk and cheese experience dealing with US-based VC firms, which unlike Australian firms will take the time to hear his pitch and get to know his business. Integrated Animal Healthwill continue engaging US funds for its $40 million Series C, which has already started.

Michael Kleinig, CEO of Go Resources which is developing technology that produces lubricants from safflower, spoke of the lack of understanding in the local angel investing community around food and agriculture. Go Resources has recently closed a $226k seed round and like the rest of the panel will look to head to the US to do a roadshow in preparation for their next raise.

Agri-food innovation investment needed

The message is consistent; Australia has great science and R&D with a strong pipeline of innovative agri-food technology. The country has strong capital markets, but a small and immature venture capital market that could be a handbrake on the development of a sector that is doing its best to flourish.

Promising ag and food tech startups will continue to head offshore to find funding, or they will attempt to raise in Australia and risk running out of runway before finding the right backing.

With more bellies to feed every day across Australasia, the world will miss out if the momentum does not continue in this up-and-coming industry in Australia. In the meantime, Australia will remain as an untapped opportunity for VCs willing to jump on a plane.

Beijing Based Tsing Capital Sets Up $1 Billion Agri-Food Fund in Melbourne

By Peter Hemphill

FOOD and agricultural technology trade between Australia and China is expected to grow, with the establishment of a new $1 billion capital fund.

Beijing-based investment management company Tsing Capital has set up the Food and Agritech Fund to invest in downstream processing of Australian food and agricultural products with high value in China.

Tsing Capital founder and managing partner Don Ye has joined with Australian corporate entrepreneur Charles Hunting to raise capital from $500 million to $1 billion to invest in local agriculture and technology projects.

The fund has the capacity to raise extra funds through loans, potentially increasing its capital to $2 billion.

Mr Hunting said Asian and Canadian sovereign wealth and strategic investment funds had already given indications they would contribute $250 million in capital.

“We will be fundraising in Australia as well,” he said.

“About a third to half of the funds would come from Australia.”

The Food and Agritech Fund would be managed by Tsing Capital.

The company, which has offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Silicon Valley in the US and Belgium, has put together eight similar funds with investments totalling $1 billion since Tsing Capital was set up in 2000.

Mr Ye said these included money from all over the world, involving large financial institutions such as Dutch development finance company FMO and IFC Asset Management Company of the US, along with energy conglomerates BP and EDF Energy in the UK.

Very little investment funds were sourced from China up to now.

Mr Ye, a Chinese American, said Tsing Capital was one of the earliest investment fund management companies set up in China.

He has been forging greater investment ties between China and Australia at least since 2008, when he met then Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd and former environment minister Penny Wong at a dinner attended by representatives of both countries’ governments.

“We are designing a fund fit for purpose for Australia and China,” he said.

Mr Hunting said the Food and Agritech Fund would invest in Australian food and agricultural services for export to China, based on Chinese demand.

“We’re not creating the food products for the sake of hopefully getting that food into the Chinese market,” he said.

“The plan is to bring strategic Chinese investors who have distribution networks in China so that we can create an end-to-end opportunity that is demand driven, not supply driven.”

But Mr Hunting said the ideal investment must fit the company’s stance on sustainable ecosystems.

“In food and agriculture, we are looking at high-quality food, high-quality agriculture,” he said.

“We believe in vertical integration but there must be focus on ecosystems.

“We want to bring in biomass solutions, bring in solar solutions and electronic vehicles (to those investments in food businesses).”

Mr Hunting said the group planned to invest in manufacturing in regional centres in Australia, with a focus on the grain and the sugar industries, but not exclusive to them.

It would have its headquarters in Melbourne.

This article originally appeared in The Weekly Times. Check out the original article here.

Hemp food producer expecting 400 per cent growth in next 12 months

By Kim Honan

An Australian producer of hemp foods is predicting a 400 per cent growth in the next year, even though it is still illegal to sell hemp products for human consumption here.

Hemp Foods Australia's chief executive officer Paul Benhaim said the demand was being driven by overseas consumers interested in the health benefits of the seeds, oil and protein.

"They're natural, they're organic, they're high in essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, that is common usually in fish oils, which are really popular in Japan," he said.

While the company exports to numerous countries across the world, Japan is by far its biggest market and growing fast.

"Japan has had really serious issues with a nuclear accident there not so long ago, so certainly the First Lady is very much looking at environmental responses to that particular outcome," he said.

Mr Benhaim recently met with the First Lady of Japan, Akie Abe, at the inaugural Kyoto Hemp Forum.

"It's an extremely large honour to be the presence of someone like the First Lady — let alone to have a conversation — let alone for them to come up and literally have their photo taken with your products, which is quite unheard of," he said.

Designing products for export

To meet the growth in exports Hemp Foods Australia is busy upgrading its factory at Bangalow in northern New South Wales.

Last year it received nearly $600,000 from the Federal Government towards building its $1.178 million state-of-the-art processing facility.

But the company is developing a range of other food products solely for the export market, were hemp foods can be legally consumed.

"It's a little bit confidential that discussion, but we're looking at things like snack bars, we're looking at drinks, we're looking at pastas, we're looking at fibre supplements, we're looking at a whole different range of products," he said.

"People really love Australia and it has a great image. We're really excited because we are growing more hemp seeds in Australia this year than anyone ever has and they're all certified organic.

"We're excited to have a much larger support for our local farmers in Australia, where we can produce more products and keep our overseas markets growing while we wait for the ministerial departments to cross some t's and dot some i's, to allow hemp foods much more widespread in Australia."

Struggling to meet the demand

Mr Benhaim said they needed more farmers in Australia to start growing hemp to help it meet the growing demand.

"We have just hired a very large firm to work with us in our farming who we're in constant discussions with on how to upscale, not just for what we need but for future growth which we see as being extreme," he said.

"That's one the wonderful things about hemp, is that it can be grown in any country around the world and in any place in any country.

"One of the big differences with Hemp Foods Australia is that we focus on certified organic farming techniques only for our crops, so we are one of the only countries in the world that does that."

This article was originally posted on ABC Rural. Check out the original article here.

Blockchains could help restore trust in the food we choose to eat

By Phil Godsiff

If the food industry is not in crisis, it certainly contains an increasing level of complexity and associated risks. A recent analysis suggested 50% of US food production is wasted, with global estimates above 30%.

Retailers want perfect produce, leading to wastage occurring throughout the food supply chain. They also seek low prices, leading to industrialisation of processes.

Food scares such as mad cow disease (BSE) and cross contamination mean many consumers have less trust in their food, increasingly seeking information on authenticity and production practices.

Over 80% of antibiotics used in the US are used in food production. Farming practices lead to environmental issues and may exacerbate to climate change. Alternate “real world” models are being developed to address some of these issues. For instance, farmers' markets can reduce food miles, and demonstrate localism. Gleaning, where people collect leftover crops from farmers' fields after they have been commercially harvested, is becoming popular. There is ever increasing legislation and standards, though these tend to be national or regional, and often onerous to implement.

Recent developments in the digital economy could help. Among these are a growing use of sensors providing information to allow more intelligent practices to reduce costs and improve flexibility. Real time temperature monitoring and smart fridges in homes can help reduce waste. But a relatively new innovation, the blockchain, is seen by many as offering significant opportunities within agricultural supply chains.

Blockchains are the technology that underpin cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, but they have uses other than currencies. They record information in a distributed ledger in a way that is both secure and immutable; by being distributed among many users these ledgers are resilient with no single point of failure, and they can be (depending on design), transparent to all users.

Blockchains and trust

Described by the Economist as “the trust machine”, blockchains provide supply chain transparency and data integrity, allowing a visible assurance of authenticity.

A number of startups are exploring the potential for blockchains in agriculture. Most notable is Provenance.org, a small UK B2B software startup using the blockchain to establish the authenticity of high value goods, including food. They are experimenting with proving the supply chain of tuna caught in Indonesia being delivered to Japanese restaurants. They will use information on sensors or RFID tags and local certification, recorded in the blockchain, to track the fish along its journey from “hook to fork”; creating in the words of one of their founders, a “reputation system”.

Other software firms are developing similar off the shelf solutions for global tracking. Innovators are researching ways in which DNA can be recorded and tagged to an animal, and recorded in the blockchain. This information can easily be made available to end users and customers using mobile phones and apps.

BlockCrushr Labs is a Canadian startup addressing issues of local food poverty and is using the currency and transparency aspects of blockchain technology to increase donations to homeless people, and also to ensure these donations are responsibly spent.

Farmshare is using blockchain to evolve community-supported agriculture, where a local “currency” can be used to purchase locally produced food within a natural community.

Farmers continue to look for ways to certify their crops. U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr, CC BY

A wireless sensor firm, Filament, is developing sensors to monitor crop health and recording results in a blockchain. Others are embedding sensors in the harvested crop to record temperature and humidity. These make it easier to trace damaged crops. Linking these sensor records to other connected equipment in the internet of things, such as transport and storage coolers ensures end to end monitoring and safe handling.

Skuchain is developing improved barcodes and RFID tags, and blockchain technology with the aim of protecting end to end global supply chains against counterfeiting.

Firms such as sandwich chain Subway have pledged to remove antibiotics and preservatives from their ingredients. If the wish to deliver these promises, a transparent blockchain where product origin and contents are visible to all would seem to be a suitable approach.

We may typify these proofs of concept and ideas as using the blockchain to provide a permanent audit trail, where visibility leads to accountability and trust, without the need to establish local reputation. This philosophy is obviously not restricted to agriculture.

However blockchain solutions have their own limitations. Principal among these are the need to ensure a tight coupling between the product and its digital representation, and the ongoing need for some form of reputable local certification system in the first mile to, for example, establish the fact of ethical practices.

The inevitable mixing of products and supply chains is another factor complicating easy adoption and implementation. For these reasons current proofs of concept tend to be high value and low volume, and often stimulated by strong social motivations of their founders. Blockchains can only be part of a wider solution, and may remain limited to niche markets where establishing provenance can command higher returns.

 

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. You can find the original here.

Australia’s first and only indigenous hatted chef shares his passion about the food of his youth

CLAYTON’S earliest memories in the kitchen were watching his mum whip up something delicious, “usually from a Margaret Fulton cookbook, a Mexican or Chinese cookbook — always great food from around the world and different cultures,” says Clayton, Australia’s first and only indigenous hatted chef.

But it was in the scrub nearby at his Aunty Jess’s place on Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung land on the NSW mid-north coast that Clayton got his first taste of the ancient bush food that would help define his career.

“My aunty used to take me out foraging and collecting bush food and that was it! I was connected to a culture that stretches back thousands of years,” he says.

His first mouthful of bush food left such an impression, Clayton ended up naming a restaurant, Jaaning Tree, after it.

“Jaaning is a black wattyl tree and the sap is edible — probably one of the first bush lollies,” says Clayton, 42.

“It’s gooey and golden and it’s slightly sweet with real woody flavour. There’s nothing else quite like the flavours we have here so after I started out [cooking] myself it was a natural thing that bush ingredients would emerge in my food.”

Today’s Australian of the Day spent years honing his craft in some of the best kitchens in Australia and England, including stints as a sous chef and head chef in restaurants including Boscundle Manor and Fowey Hall.

Clayton Donovan, Australia's only hatted indigenous chef pictured at home in Nambucca Heads, NSW. Picture: Lindsay Moller

Returning to Australia, he focused on pop-up restaurants on farms and in country pubs and rural halls along his beloved NSW coast, blending his contemporary international experience with ancient culture.

“Things like Illawarra plums, macadamia nuts, lemon myrtle, finger limes, aniseed myrtle, “ says Clayton.

Word of the pop-ups soon spread.

“We’ve done them at the Australian Museum, then various corporate ones and we’re recently back from doing a pop-up restaurant in the Australian High Commission in New Delhi,” he says.

This year Clayton is hoping to help extend the reach of native food with a cookbook of his own. “We’re getting closer to making an Australian identity with our cuisine after all these years,” says Clayton.

“You never know, it might knock off the lamington and the pavlova! I like the idea of one of the oldest foods in the world becoming one of the newest food trends in the world.”

This article originally appeared on The Courier Mail. Check out the original here.

 

NZ Agtech Startup CropLogic Crowdfunds $500k for ASX Listing

CropLogic has raised $512,200 via crowdfunding platform Equitise, which it will use to prepare for its listing on the Australian Stock Exchange. The Christchurch-based company software gathers field data and makes crop prescriptions and management recommendations based on proprietary models. The startup has an agreement with the NZ Institute for Plant and Food Researchto model potatoes and is about to start trials of the system in other commodities such as corn, wheat, soybean and cotton. In 2015, CropLogic was one of seven startups to get a $450k grant from Callaghan Innovation to develop aerial imaging technology.

This excerpt was originally published on AgFunder News. Read the original article

See the details of the equity crowd funding campaign here

The Next Phase For Agriculture Technology

This article originally appeared on Forbes. Check out the original here.
It was written by the Rob Leclerc, co-founder and CEO of AgFunder which you should also be across. 

Agriculture technology is no longer a niche that no one’s heard about. Agriculture has confirmed its place as an industry of interest for the venture capital community after investment in agtech broke records for the past three years in a row, reaching $4.6 billion in 2015.

For a long time, it wasn’t a target sector for venture capitalists or entrepreneurs. Only a handful of funds served the market, largely focused on biotech opportunities. And until recently, entrepreneurs were also too focused on what Steve Case calls the “Second Wave” of innovation, — web services, social media, and mobile technology — to look at agriculture, the least digitized industry in the world,according to McKinsey & Co.

Michael Macrie, chief information officer at agriculture cooperative Land O’ Lakes recently told Forbes that he counted only 20 agtech companies as recently as 2010.

But now, the opportunity to bring agriculture, a $7.8 trillion industry representing 10% of global GDP, into the modern age has caught the attention of a growing number of investors globally. In our 2015 annual report, we recorded 503 individual companies raising funding. This increasing interest in the sector coincides with a more general “Third Wave” in technological innovation, where all companies are internet-powered tech companies, and startups are challenging the biggest incumbent industries like hospitality, transport, and now agriculture.

Annual Agtech Financing 2010 – 2015

agtech-funding.png

Source: AgFunder’s AgTech Investing Report: 2015

There is huge potential, and need, to help the ag industry find efficiencies, conserve valuable resources, meet global demands for protein, and ensure consumers have access to clean, safe, healthy food. In all this, technological innovation is inevitable.

It’s a complex and diverse industry, however, with many subsectors for farmers, investors, and industry stakeholders to navigate. Entrepreneurs are innovating across agricultural disciplines, aiming to disrupt the beef, dairy, row crop, permanent crop, aquaculture, forestry, and fisheries sectors. Each discipline has a specific set of needs that will differ from the others.

The technologies for the subsectors do have similarities and can be divided into a few clear categories.

Those aiming to impact the industry “on the farm”: input technologies (encompassing all inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, soil amendments, genetics, seeds, and feed); precision agriculture (including drones & robotics, big data, smart equipment & sensors and farm management software); new production and new business models (indoor or controlled environment agriculture, cellular agriculture, input and asset sharing).

And the technologies looking to disrupt the supply chain after the farmgate: traceability and packaging; processing technologies; waste reducing technologies such as biotechnologies producing biomaterials from food and agricultural waste; farm-to-consumer distribution; e-grocers; and food nutrition transparency.

These technologies are being applied globally across developed and emerging markets, although the vast majority of the activity is taking place in the US.

How quickly we get there

With these different technological subsectors laid out, each with its own growing ecosystem of startups and investors, now all eyes are on how quickly these technologies will be adopted by the industry. Depressed commodity prices have raised concerns about the spending power of farmers and agribusinesses in the short-to-medium term but, at the same time, a survey recently showed that one in four Midwest farmers are planning to purchase new technologies in the hope of increasing efficiencies, and with them, profits.

The rate of adoption for each subsector will differ, and each will face a different set of challenges. The same can be said for agtech being developed for the emerging markets, where innovators are often meeting different needs and creating business models to fit the even more disjointed ag industries in these countries.

The technologies for the subsectors do have similarities and can be divided into a few clear categories. Those aiming to impact the industry “on the farm”: input technologies (encompassing all inputs such as fertilizers, pesticides, soil amendments, genetics, seeds, and feed); precision agriculture (including drones & robotics, big data, smart equipment & sensors and farm management software); new production and new business models (indoor or controlled environment agriculture, cellular agriculture, input and asset sharing).

And the technologies looking to disrupt the supply chain after the farmgate: traceability and packaging; processing technologies; waste reducing technologies such as biotechnologies producing biomaterials from food and agricultural waste; farm-to-consumer distribution; e-grocers; and food nutrition transparency.

These technologies are being applied globally across developed and emerging markets, although the vast majority of the activity is taking place in the US.

How quickly we get there

With these different technological subsectors laid out, each with its own growing ecosystem of startups and investors, now all eyes are on how quickly these technologies will be adopted by the industry. Depressed commodity prices have raised concerns about the spending power of farmers and agribusinesses in the short-to-medium term but, at the same time, a survey recently showed that one in four Midwest farmers are planning to purchase new technologies in the hope of increasing efficiencies, and with them, profits.

The rate of adoption for each subsector will differ, and each will face a different set of challenges. The same can be said for agtech being developed for the emerging markets, where innovators are often meeting different needs and creating business models to fit the even more disjointed ag industries in these countries.

Some of these challenges have been recognized by investors, and some have not. What most agree is that the positive impact of a technology on the bottom line of a farmer, agribusiness, or food company needs to be obvious immediately if they’re to adopt it.

The most high profile and best-funded subsectors to date include those using digital, precision, biological, genetic, and big data technologies to help farmers improve efficiencies on the farm and use fewer resources. (Precision agriculture, the act of using resources more precisely and efficiently to increase agricultural yields, encompasses a series of different technologies including farm management software, drones, satellite imagery, sensors.)

In an incredibly complex industry, it’s relatively easy for investors to understand the potential for these technologies to help reduce reliance on declining water resources, damaging chemicals, and a stable climate.

There are some clear challenges ahead for these technologies, however. I’ve addressed some of these below.

Sensors: Startups producing sensors were some of the first to emerge in the nascent digital agtech scene, mostly offering farmers insights on the level of moisture in their soils, but it soon became a case of too many me-toos. Rolling out sensors across thousands of acres of farmland can be a challenge, as well as interoperability with existing software. The cost of hardware production is offputting to venture capital firms, too. Expect consolidation in this segment and some distressed roll-ups, although we do hear that farmers want to see more hardware options.

Drones: Robots are heralded as the solution to labor shortages and limitations on the farm. Drones are a part of this and are seen as having huge potential to help farmers monitor their fields, make timely decisions to avoid yield losses, and even help with applying inputs onto the land. Many farmers were quick to purchase drones, but few have found them more than a nice-to-have. The challenges include: limited battery life, inability to analyze the imagery data in real-time to provide real decision-making benefits, time-consuming and labor-intensive to launch and fly under regulations, and lack of clear customer base — is it the farmer himself, or his agronomist or consultants? Entrepreneurs are constantly innovating in this space, however, to bring better sensors, analysis, and flight tools. There is no doubt drones will revolutionize agriculture and become widely adopted, it just might take a bit longer to iron out some of the kinks and provide immediate value on the farm.

Farm management software: Startups that are aiming to capture, integrate and analyze all the data coming off the farm, whether from sensors, drones, machinery, or imagery, stand to significantly improve the decision-making process and business management for farmers. The ideal outcome is that farmers can be given recommendations on how much of an input to apply, and when. The amount they use is then measured and set against their expenses, yield predictions are made, and the farmer can get insight into how her end-of-year earnings will look in advance. There are some big hurdles to jump to get here and prove the real value of these products to farmers: ease of use, connectivity, interoperability of data-capturing devices, data standardization, and price are just some.

Biological inputs: This segment — of fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs made through biological means as opposed to more traditional chemistry — has been on venture capitalists’ radars for a much longer time more than other agtech subsectors. It was responsible for some of agtech’s first venture capital exits — Bayeracquired AgraQuest for $425 million and BASF acquired Becker Underwood for $1 million — but the segment has suffered a reputational crisis as biological products have failed to perform as expected. While bio-pesticides and bio-fertilizers cannot completely replace their chemical counterparts, they can reduce the amount of chemicals needed and thereby reduce costs. Research around the plant microbiome and how that can be harnessed to increase crop yields is still in its infancy, but is a hot topic for investors and has a huge amount of potential. There are some concerns that companies operating in this space have been valued too highly before they are even close to producing products, however.

Gene editing and big data in biology: While much of the discussion around big data has focused on on-farm data capture and analysis, biotech startups are also harnessing big data to make genetic and molecular discoveries at a never-before-seen speed. One of the most high-profile uses of this technology, which often involves machine learning, is gene editing. Through a range of different tools — CRISPR and TALEN are the most well known — tech companies are disrupting both the livestock and crop industries, without the burdensome label of being genetically modified (GM). This classification is still up for debate, and it would be hugely detrimental to these amazing discoveries if regulators changed their mind on gene editing. There are also some issues around the intellectual property of some of the processes that still need to be ironed out.

Staying power

It’s certainly not plain-sailing for many agtech startups out there. Agriculture is the world’s oldest and most entrenched industry that’s survived centuries. It’s not easily disruptable. It’s tied to regulatory schemes; influenced, and in many ways controlled, by the incumbent seed and chemicals companies; and has worked through the same distribution channels for decades. There are onlookers wondering if much of this sci-fi like technology can really deliver on its promises and whether recent funding activity from the venture community and interest from entrepreneurs, is a bubble waiting to burst. It’s a good question.

When we consider the future of agtech, it’s useful to think about the expectations of a technology’s lifecycle and how technology actually evolves. One proxy for our expectations is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Gartner Methodologies, Gartner Hype Cycle

Developed by the IT research and advisory firm Gartner, the cycle follows the pattern of people’s expectations when they’re exposed to a new idea or technology. Essentially, a new idea/technology is introduced, it demands a huge amount of hype, the hype goes beyond the technology’s current capabilities, the crowd is disillusioned until the tech climbs out of the barrel and shows its usefulness.

While these expectations are moving up and down and up again, the actual technology is building steam in the background, according to a version of Moore’s Law, which states that technological innovation increases exponentially over time.

Staying power

It’s certainly not plain-sailing for many agtech startups out there. Agriculture is the world’s oldest and most entrenched industry that’s survived centuries. It’s not easily disruptable. It’s tied to regulatory schemes; influenced, and in many ways controlled, by the incumbent seed and chemicals companies; and has worked through the same distribution channels for decades. There are onlookers wondering if much of this sci-fi like technology can really deliver on its promises and whether recent funding activity from the venture community and interest from entrepreneurs, is a bubble waiting to burst. It’s a good question.

When we consider the future of agtech, it’s useful to think about the expectations of a technology’s lifecycle and how technology actually evolves. One proxy for our expectations is the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Gartner Methodologies, Gartner Hype Cycle

Developed by the IT research and advisory firm Gartner, the cycle follows the pattern of people’s expectations when they’re exposed to a new idea or technology. Essentially, a new idea/technology is introduced, it demands a huge amount of hype, the hype goes beyond the technology’s current capabilities, the crowd is disillusioned until the tech climbs out of the barrel and shows its usefulness.

While these expectations are moving up and down and up again, the actual technology is building steam in the background, according to a version of Moore’s Law, which states that technological innovation increases exponentially over time.

For much of agtech, we are still climbing the hype, and it largely hasn’t delivered on its technological promise.

AgFunder’s adaptation of the Gartner Hype Cycle to include agtech categories

In other words, there’s a lot of technology that’s exciting to the public, but it’s only in its first innings and iterations. We’ll need to wait for the real innovation to come, but once it does, it will be transformational.

Until that point, the agtech startup scene will continue to attract the attention of forward-thinking investors who are compelled by the macro drivers that highlight the need for technological advancement of the world’s least digitized industry — consumer trends, environmental and resource challenges, increasing populations.

The oldest industry in the world has so far to go to catch up with the world’s other industries; it’s inevitable that agtech adoption will boom. We are just at the beginning.

 

Kellogs Launches $100m VC fund

by Lora Kolodny (@lorakolodny)

Instead of two scoops, here’s one big one– the Kellogg Company is launching a corporate venture arm called Eighteen94 Capital (1894) to invest in food and food-related tech startups.

The name is a nod to the year that Dr. John Harvey Kellogg and his brother W.K. Kellogg, the company’s founder, created their first decidedly low-tech cereal.

Venture investors historically ignored consumer packaged goods, but technologies from social media to molecular sensors have begun to figure more heavily in the development, manufacturing, marketing and sales of food products.

Kellogg’s effort is just the latest in a string of funds created to grab stakes in hot startups in the massive global market for food.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, global food retail sales reach about $4 trillion annually. And packaged foods alone should generate revenue of $3.03 trillion annually by 2020, according to forecasts from Allied Market Research.

Newer venture funds specializing in food-related deals include Accel Foods,CAVU VenturesS2G Ventures and CircleUp.

And consumer packaged goods giants who already invest in venture deals regularly include General Mills via its 301 INC fund, and the Campbell Soup Co., the sole limited partner in Acre Venture Partners.

Established tech firms are also signing deals with food and beverage makers with the likes of Canaan Partners, Andreessen Horowitz and Khosla Ventures investing in, respectively, NatureBoxSoylent and Hampton Creek Foods.

Kellogg’s worked with Touchdown Ventures in San Francisco to set up its new fund, according to 1894 Managing Director Simon Burton and Kellogg Company Vice Chairman Gary Pilnick.

Ultimately, Kellogg’s wanted to start a VC arm because, Burton said, “The rate of innovation across our industry has picked up dramatically, things are changing quickly, and investing is a great way to get a sense of what’s going to be important in the future.”

Initially, Burton said 1894 will invest in North American companies that have revenue in the $5 million to $10 million range, making everything from natural and organic foods or beverages, to new packaging materials, ingredients, or sales and marketing technologies.

In a typical deal, 1894 expects to invest $1 million to $3 million in Series A and Series B stage startups. The fund is prepared to invest up to $100 million in startups over the next five years, and intends to do deals internationally over time.

“We’ll have a big focus on food without a doubt,” said Pilnick, “but we remain open to technology that helps us reach the consumer or retail partners. We want to win where the shopper shops, which sounds like an obvious thing, but there are a lot of ways to achieve that.”

The money for 1894’s deals will come from Kellogg’s corporate balance sheet.

Touchdown VC’s Managing Director Rich Grant and President Scott Lenet will continue to work with 1894 and Kellogg’s to connect the Battle Creek, Michigan company with the broader VC community and relevant food-focused accelerators. Besides linking Kellogg’s with co-investors, they said, they will also help 1894 bring in and evaluate deals, and manage due diligence reviews of startups.

Ultimately, Kellogg’s will make its own investment decisions about who they back and how much they invest, Grant emphasized.

While Kellogg’s is known as a cereal manufacturer, they also own vegetarian brands MorningStar and Gardenburger, salty snacks brands including Pringles and Austin, and myriad others.

Burton said he expects Kellogg’s depth and breadth of in-house expertise, especially relationships with and knowledge of food retailers, will draw food entrepreneurs to the new fund.

Pilnick added, “We have that Midwestern mindset of working together and partnering to get things done.”

The fund has not yet announced any deals.

This article originally appeared on Tech Crunch. Check out the original here

Simplot Ignite Demo Day

Last night about 100 investors and startup folks packed into a trendy nightclub like venue in Melbourne city for the Simplot Ingnite Demo Day - Australia's first corporate-backed food-tech accelerator, and it was a damn good show.  

The hand selected startups had completed the 12 week program run by corporate accelerator, Slingshot who claim they have taught them to 'build globally scalable businesses coupled with mentoring, marketing support and financial backing'.

I watched the Ignite startups and scaleups present their food-tech startups and share their journey from idea to investor-ready companies. They pitched their next ask to investors and industry figures and they were impressive and polished confirming the fact that the agri-food tech space is progressing quickly with a new innovative approach, fresh faces and more dollars. 

THE STARTUPS

Chewsr

Chewsr is tinder for food, we allow people to order and eat with their eyes first.

We deliver this via our Visual Ordering System that enables any food business to engage their customers and maximise their revenue. Our goal is to connect the bricks & mortar foodservice industry with E-commerce. http://www.chewsr.com/

GeneSpark

Unlock your true potential with targeted personalised nutrition. GeneSpark uses the latest advancements in DNA based testing to understand, create and deliver nutrition on an individual level. www.genespark.com.au

Sprout

Sprout is an online marketplace that lets people list, search and book local commercial kitchen space. http://sproutkitchens.com/

Yummed

Why eat alone or in a roomful of strangers in a restaurant? Some of the our most wonderful times are spent enjoying good food with great company. Yummed is a social dining platform that brings people together using food as the universal connector. Anyone can organise, cook and host a dining event and invite other members as paid guests. More than just a series of one-off encounters, innovative social features enable participants to engage, share and develop enduring friendships. https://www.yummed.com/

 

THE SCALEUPS

Hum 

Hum, a digital pantry for cafes, coffee shops, pubs, restaurants, caterers and eateries. Hum is a mobile first, ordering platform that makes it simple for food service businesses to order food and beverage supplies, aggregate invoices, and pay in a more effective manner than the traditional paper based model most businesses have now. http://humgroup.net/

The Low Carb Living Group

The Protein Bread Company is an Australian owned company that creates and produces beautiful high protein, low carb, gluten free products. Founded to meet the needs of consumers who could not eat bread, it now enables thousands of athletes and health focused individuals to achieve their nutritional objectives whilst enjoying everyday foods such as bread, pancakes and muffins. These high protein, low carb and gluten free products are available instore and online around Australia.

Through their involvement in the Simplot Ignite program, The Protein Bread Co is working to expand their range of high protein, low carb everyday foods, making them available to all Australians wishing to improve their wellbeing. http://lowcarblivinggroup.com.au/

Yello

Drive Yello ensures the efficient and reliable delivery of food by allowing food service businesses to recruit, book, manage, pay, train and monitor their delivery drivers whilst providing a marketplace for drivers to build their business, picking up shifts or one-off deliveries.  http://www.driveyello.com/

Dish'd

Are you one of the millions of Australians who find dinnertime to be a time-consuming chore, full of decisions and effort, lacking in inspiration and variety?  At dish’d Food Store, we source delicious food from around the world “where it’s done best!”, offering our customers an authentic, unique and convenient range of meals and sides.  All our food is snap-frozen for convenience and freshness, and is designed to be cooked from frozen and enjoyed in under 30 low-effort minutes.

Nearing its second anniversary, dish’d is leveraging the Simplot Ignite program to refocus its product offering and messaging, customer service model and customer lifecycle marketing strategy.