Last October, the Sumas Regional Consortium for High Tech (SRCTec), a Canadian non-profit organization, launched one of the country’s first agtech-focused accelerators: the Agri-Food Venture Acceleration Program (AVAP). In partnership with the British Columbia Innovation Council, SRCTec created AVAP to promote the development of a competitive agtech space in the District of Mission, located roughly 30 kilometers outside Vancouver. It’s hoping to be Canada’s Silicon Valley for agriculture.
Canada has a rich agriculture industry, generating 6.7 percent of Canada’s GDP during 2013 and totaling $106.9 billion. Based on 2013 figures, the country is the fifth largest agricultural exporter in the world and employs roughly 2.2 million Canadians. It produces 80 percent of the world’s maple syrup and is the largest exporter of flaxseed, canola, pulses, and durum wheat. On average, Canada is home to four million beef cattle and 26 million pigs each year.
AVAP is not the first agtech accelerator launched in Canada. Ontario-based bioscience and business accelerator Bioenterprise has been around since 2003, and earlier this year announced that it received an investment worth up to $2.5 million from the Canada Accelerator and Incubator Program (CAIP), designed to cultivate business growth and job creation in Canada by providing early stage capital. A few Canadian venture capital firms also specialize in agtech – Avrio Capital, Bioenterprise Capital and most recently AVAC Ltd. and Finistere launched a new arm focused on AgTech, Verdex Capital. At least one Canadian-based investment firm is also making agtech plays. Currently managing over $41 million for more than 100 Canadian investors, environmental investment firm Investeco oversees the Investco Sustainable Fund, which is geared toward supporting expansion-stage companies focusing on sustainable food and agriculture.
Operating similar to other agtech and business accelerators, the AVAP program lasts roughly nine months (actually longer than most programs) and focuses on helping entrepreneurs develop prototypes, connect with mentors and consultants, and identify potential investors. AVAP provides startups and early stage agtech companies located in the Fraser Valley with a host of coaching opportunities and resources to maximize commercialization opportunities and accelerate growth. Over the course of the program, AVAP participants will engage 26 client ventures.
Since launching last Fall, AVAP has enrolled 17 participants with 13 of those companies actively working through the program. The participants come from a wide range of backgrounds and specialties. Robotics and engineering firm Advanced Intelligent Systems, Inc. is in the process of developing a device that helps nurseries move large and often cumbersome plants and potting accoutrements. Stable Buzz developed a mobile app that helps horse and livestock operations keep tabs on their daily planning, streamline communication, and organize feeding schedules and veterinary records. The app also helps users with finances and event management. CEA Innovations designed and constructed a so-called gripper device that fits onto a robotic arm enabling the machine to pick up highly perishable fruit like tomatoes and mushrooms.
The program is also designed to create an ecosystem for agtech startups in the Fraser Valley, a resource that has historically been limited throughout the region. “We have set up with sponsors like Genome BC, and Bioenterprise, a large national-scale accelerator, Faskin Martineau, and Bell BC,” said Mike Manion, AVAP program director, in a recent interview with AgFunderNews. “We also have regular workshops where we invite our sponsors to provide legal and planning workshops. We have a national research council representatives who speaks to the entrepreneurs about potential funding for specific purposes, like getting prototyping going for marketing initiatives and that sort of thing.”
Manion and AVAP’s leaders aren’t just looking to the investment community to construct their agtech ecosystem. “Another very important aspect is to connect the entrepreneur with an industry advisory board made up of local farm entrepreneurs who have done well. The networking is very important for the companies.”
The program is also targeting the retired farming community as a potential funding source. “One of the old adages is that farmers live poor and die rich. Well, many of them are getting quite smarter and investing before they pass, so they have years to enjoy their hard work. That’s a community that is fairly affluent and potentially interested in investing back into agriculture through agtech.”
“I would like to see some major job production,” says Manion regarding what he’d like to see AVAP accomplish in the coming years. “Ultimately, I’d like to see two to three significant companies located in the Mission area producing lots of high-paying jobs. If we can do that in the next five years I think people would be thrilled.”
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