AgLaunch’s new Accelerator program supports agricultural startups
Ready, set, accelerate! Led by Memphis Bioworks Foundation’s Ag Innovation Development Group, and supported by the expertise of Start Co. and EPIcenter, the 15-week AgLaunch Accelerator program launched in August 2016 to further attract, train, and support agri-tech and food startups.
The four companies selected to participate – Cowlar, Secure Food Solutions, Skycision and YieldStart – demonstrated that they were on the cutting edge and ready for takeoff, if only provided the key resources needed to succeed.
The Accelerator teams were provided $50,000 seed capital. Not only that, they were given world-class instruction on business model development, customer discovery, prototyping and preparation for investment. The businesses also gained one-on-one time with farmers to test their innovations and access to a national mentor list of experts.
In just 90 days, the Accelerator program successfully proved that “we could attract quality startups from around the world, provide quality assistance that has helped each company grow tremendously, and that the agriculture and investment community is willing to support the effort with time, access to resources, and funding,” says Pete Nelson, director for AgLaunch Initiative, president of Ag Innovation Development Group LLC and vice president of Ag Innovation, Memphis Bioworks Foundation.
By the end of the program, teams had already raised additional funding and deployed technology across the nation. Moving forward, AgLaunch will continue to offer multiple accelerators annually across Tennessee
with additional programs such as weekend boot camps on agricultural university campuses.
When reflecting on their time in the Accelerator program, the CEOs of Cowlar and Skycision concur that by surrounding entrepreneurs with what is needed to be successful, AgLaunch has become a one-stop shop for agricultural innovation.
COWLAR – THE SMART COLLAR FOR COWS
Located in Pakistan and Memphis, Cowlar is poised to change the dairy industry with its “Fitbit” type of device for cows, designed to improve herd health and optimize operations. With AgLaunch Accelerator resources at his fingertips, Umer Adnan, CEO of Cowlar, achieved numerous milestones, including identifying new customer segments in the U.S. and emerging markets.
“AgLaunch has been great in terms of providing the perfect blend of agriculture and business/technology training. We’re also extremely lucky to have had the chance to develop some key strategic partnerships that allow us to reach customers more efficiently,” Adnan says.
Citing Tennessee as the perfect location for overseas startups, Adnan is now exploring how Cowlar can start manufacturing and assembling units in the U.S. with a base in Memphis for shipping, returns, fulfillment, and customer support for North and South American customers.
“The AgLaunch program is the perfect breeding ground for learning and growing startups in the ag-tech space. I would encourage other startups to be part of the program as they provide tremendous value as an accelerator,” he says.
SKYCISION – PRECISION AGRICULTURE SOLUTIONS
Through the analysis of drone-collected imagery, Skycision is helping farmers detect crop stress earlier than ever before. Initially focusing on vineyards, the business is now expanding its solution to specialty row crops, commodities and orchards with help from AgLaunch.
“AgLaunch has a valuable network to leverage. It was important for us to sit down and understand how our solution can translate between crop types, how we can most efficiently scale up, and where we decide to allocate our resources,” says Brendan Carroll, CEO of Skycision.
Carroll has also found that “without putting your boots on, walking in the fields, and understanding the decisions farmers have to make and the pains they face, you can’t develop a successful solution. That connection is fundamental to agri-tech innovation.”
Making strong associations, finding experts in the ag-tech space and identifying investors are all essential components to Skycision’s future growth potential. Tennessee offers the whole package.
“Entrepreneurship is a roller coaster. It’s important to find allies like AgLaunch that are willing to take that ride with you,” he says.
This article was published in Tennessee Ag Insider magazine | 2017.
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