Silicon Valley isn’t the only place in America fueling the next generation of startups and innovation. Last week we wrote about how the state of Oregon is supporting the ag- and biotech startup community through an investing subsidiary Oregon BEST and a range of accelerators and incubators.
But this week we turn our attention to Colorado. With a rich entrepreneurial climate and fierce sense of health and wellness resulting from the bevy of outdoor activities available to residents and tourists, Colorado is setting itself apart as a leader in tech research and development.
In March 2015, NPR, the news broadcaster, published an article on this very subject, asking whether the state is on the verge of becoming “the Silicon Valley of Agriculture”. Noting that Colorado is a major player when it comes to beer and beef, the article highlights two of the state’s major cities — Boulder and Denver — and how they’ve become tech startup hubs in recent years. With a solid roster of research institutions and universities within its borders, Colorado has the scientific and tech savvy manpower to help agtech entrepreneurs turn ideas into realities.
That same month, Colorado State University held the inaugural CSU Agricultural Innovation Summit in For Collins. A clear theme running throughout the program was enhancing Colorado’s desirability as a launching pad for food and agriculture startups and using innovation to tackle the plethora of problems facing the industry.
The following list provides an overview of the wide variety of resources available to innovators, researchers, and entrepreneurs looking to build a food and agriculture related business in America’s Centennial State.
- Enriching the state’s startup ecosystem is the Built In Colorado community, an online platform connecting digital technologists and entrepreneurs located throughout Colorado. The database features a number of educational tidbits, like an article providing an overview on starting your own Food Truck and information on companies developing everything from gluten free fare to all natural beverages. When it comes to farming tech, the network includes SWIIM, the water efficiency technology company, which is currently raising capital on AgFunder, drone software maker Agribotix, data cruncher aWhere, which recently raised a $7 million round, and ag e-commerce platform AgSimple. Connecting with any one of these companies could help a fledgling startup learn a thing or two about getting off the ground. TiE Rockies, or The Indus Entrepreneurs, is another comprehensive ecosystem for Colorado tech startups.
- Created after Governor John Hickenlooper highlighted the need for more investors to provide capital for local entrepreneurs, The Colorado Impact Fund launched roughly one year ago in July 2014 and has its sights set on providing capital to Colorado’s go-getters. Managers of the fund anticipate making investments in roughly 10-15 companies over the next five years. One of the first companies to snag a share of the pot is Boulder-based Bkakti Chai, a chai tea maker. According to the fund’s founder Jim Kelley, part of the reason Bhakti Chai secured a $3 million deal with the fund had to do with the owner’s decision to ground her business model in sustainable practices.
- Startup Colorado’s Community Fund is another ecosystem index fostering connections and innovation, but with a twist. The fund provides capital and awards grants to community-focused entrepreneurial organizations with a “Colorado-centric” mindset that are also intent on creating sustainable businesses.
- The Founder Institute boasts the largest idea-stage incubator and holds itself out as the world’s largest entrepreneur training program. Out of all 1,550 companies launched through the incubator, a reported 85 percent have gone on to develop thriving businesses providing over 15,000 jobs. The institute’s Denver chapter is still in its beta phase, making now the perfect time to get involved with the four-month program at the ground level. The Institute’s headquarters is located in Silicon Valley, giving participants a backdoor to even more resources, mentors, and advisors. Food Orbit, a company that makes buying and selling local and responsibly-farmed food more simple, and Abstract Agriculture, creating 3D printed glow kits for home hydroponic gardening, are among the Institute’s list of agtech startups.
- Colorado Cleantech Industries Association is hosting a Clean AgTech Challenge that will identify 5-6 agricultural companies that are developing clean technologies that have applications in agriculture. The product innovation showcase intends to crank up the speed of bringing these innovations from idea to marketplace. According to the program’s website, the program’s mission is to connect the tech developer to the ultimate user with the goals of investment, purchase, and development partnership in mind.
- Offering low-interest loans, The Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund (CO4F) supports endeavors and businesses that improve access to healthy food retail and remove existing barriers preventing Colorado’s underserved populations from obtaining health food. Although the group primarily targets rebuilding or expanding grocery stores and supermarkets, it also provides funding for farmers markets, farm stands, mobile delivery units, co-ops, and other food delivery systems, making it an excellent resource for the onslaught of online food retailers that have popped up recently.
- As the first state to legalize cannabis for recreational and medicinal usage, Colorado is home to a number of startups looking to make the young sector a major player in the agriculture industry. Canopy Boulder is on board with that mission, offering a mentorship-driven seed-stage investment program for cannabis startups. Touting itself as the leading accelerator in the legal cannabis industry, the firm offers $20,000 in seed funding and additional resources and support like a “Business Boot Camp” to help get your cannabis farming business off the ground.
- As agtech heats up in Colorado, so do the number of in-state investors and investment firms looking to build their portfolios in this area. According to this list compiled by Invstor.com, at least 15 firms providing a range of investments as low as a few grand and exceeding $10 million are interested in the intersection of technology and farming.
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