Agritech Entrepreneurs on the Rise

Technology and innovation for the rural sector continues to advance as BCC works with increasing numbers of enterprising agritech startups and entrepreneurs.

“Our role is to support them,” says BCC startup manager James Bell-Booth. “We work closely with this new breed of agritech entrepreneurs who are developing solutions to help farmers improve production.”

With BCC being located in the lush farmlands of Manawatu, agritech innovation was always going to feature prominently in their work, but in the past two years they have noticed growing activity in this area, both locally and globally, and are reacting to that trend. Each year, BCC looks at 400 new ideas and more than half of those come from the agritech arena; last year, roughly 60% of the organisation’s work was in agritech.

Businesses such as BioLumic’s UV plant growth research, Varigate’s irrigation system, CalfSMART’s automated calf feeding system and Polybatics revolutionary Tb testing programme are just some of the agritech startups that have worked with BCC.

Agritech is a broad term, used by different people to describe different things. From BCC’s point of view, agritech encompasses on-farm technology and agrifood refers to processing and products.

“There are many ways to gather data and take measurements and that was probably what the first iteration of tech companies focused on agriculture offered,” says Bell-Booth.

“But the global agritech trend – and one we are wholeheartedly embracing – is to push that further and work with companies and technology that analyses data and develops actionable insights.

“It’s not enough, for example, to tell a farmer what the level of nitrogen is in a paddock or how much a calf weighs. What we need to do is take that measurement and prescribe the action to improve the paddock or, as in the case of CalfSMART, gather data on the calf and deliver the exact amount of feed that individual needs to most efficiently gain.”

Not only does BCC seek out relationships and cultivate contacts in the sector, it is also developing tools to benefit those in it. For example, it is currently developing a business accelerator programme that is customised for New Zealand agritech.

“Most business accelerators are designed for software startups,” says Bell-Booth. “We’re developing a new agri-focused accelerator based on the Lightning Lab digital accelerator model. We’re adapting it to work with agritech companies that are developing products based on the wider context of agritech; for example, hardware, testing or clinical trials.”

Accelerators, says Bell-Booth, offer fixed length, industry-specific mentorship and training that is designed to accelerate the development of a highly scalable business plan. At the end of the programme, the entrepreneur will be ready to pitch to industry-specific investors.

Because of the nature of agritech, the new accelerator will be offered remotely. “We’ll use the internet and telephones for mentoring and then, every six to eight weeks, we’ll hold executive-MBA-style block courses. Over a 48-hour period, we’ll have workshops and face-to-face mentoring.

“Our goal is to help farmers. To do that, we work with entrepreneurs and startups in the agritech space. It’s an incredibly exciting area to work in and we know there will be dozens of new ideas and companies to support.”

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