Internet of Things America wants to provide rural connectivity to farmers in an ongoing issue and a major barrier to adoption for farmers who want to try agtech but who don’t have reliable internet access.
Digital agriculture is a revolution that has the ability to make more out of farming, making it more efficient, more profitable, and more sustainable. But achieving more is going to depend in large part on whether farmers in rural areas have the connectivity that they need to run high-powered algorithms, transport data to a cloud database, and to link up networks of sensors over tens of thousands of acres.
While broadband offers connectivity for rural dwellers in their homes, it may not bridge the technology divide between tech-hungry farmers and their inability to send or receive data from the most remote acres of their operations.
Only 58% of households in rural American communities have broadband access as of January 2018. Broadband adoption grew rapidly between 2000 and 2010, but connectivity has grown sporadically since then. For broadband companies, the cost of installing miles and miles of fiber optic cable underground, compared to the handful of subscribers that they may gain in low population density areas, just doesn’t pencil out.
Launched in June 1, 2018, Internet of Things America is trying to bridge the gap between connectivity-hungry farmers and the never-ending conveyor belt of new technologies that could revolutionize their operations. For rural areas that have been connected to broadband, the services can be expensive, unreliable, or subject to data caps that hamstring its useability.
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“IoT America manages and/or installs wireless connectivity and AgTech solutions where connectivity and reach are challenged. We partner with Rural Broadband and Cellular carriers in a go-to-market model to deploy services and deliver solutions to their customers through our vetted solutions offerings,” regional VP of sales Bob Mahr wrote to AgFunderNews. “Farmers are always looking for that edge that gives them back time and helps ensure greater precision/production in their activities This is a $500 million dollar concern just in the USA alone.”
Some of the roadblocks making it more difficult to overcome the connectivity hurdle include a drop in the number of farmers, increases in the average ages of the farmers that remain, and dwindling farmland acreage as a result of real estate development and urban sprawl.
We asked Mahr a few key questions to learn more about how Internet of Things America is trying to help farmers get connected.
What is your current growth stage?
We are currently in production/distribution and adding clients and partners. We are partnering with large wireless carriers like US Cellular and smaller Broadband providers like Plateau Communications in New Mexico as two examples.
Who is your target customer? B2B? B2C?
We have an Authorized Channel Partner go to market strategy. We focus on the needs of the farmer, rancher, grower and small town and the IoT Connectivity needs throughout Rural America. Together, our end user users are the Farmer, Rancher, Grower and Small Town who are customers of the wireless, broadband or LEC provider. These folks are both B2B and B2C by definition.
What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
Getting the word out to farmers and ranchers that options to help them improve yields and increase productivity are now available nationally. Cutting through all the noise that surrounds IoT. We are meeting Farmers and Ranchers where they are, in their fields, to discuss encompassing solutions to their specific needs. Ensuring that the solutions that we provide do what they are advertised to do. Currently, we only have an 8% solution acceptance rate from our lab.
Are there any other startups offering similar services?
We have not seen any offering the complete managed solution and we have been told by industry analysts that they have not seen any.
What has your fundraising experience been like?
We have one institutional investor and the rest are private individuals. We have raised several million dollars. Everyone loves the idea until they have to write the check. However, they all want to be kept in the loop. Our path has been typical I would imagine, but it has been accelerated by the very senior nature of our leadership team.
How have farmers reacted to your technology? Are there certain types of devices that it doesn’t support?
Farmers and ranchers love the concept, but it is a ‘trust and verify’ approach – making sure that the solutions that they need work. The momentum is building as we solve many of the connectivity issues with LPWAN solutions.