Support For Your Food & Ag Startup

How To Find The Best Support For Your Food & Ag Startup

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Editor’s Note: Sarah Nolet is founder and CEO of food and agtech consultancy AgThentic. Here she offers startups advice on how to navigate the growing number of resources for food and agtech startups.

Over the past few years, there has been a boom in the number of resources available to food and agriculture startups. By our count, there are now over 100 resources globally, from accelerators to incubators, to pitch competitions, all aimed at helping startups build their businesses.

Finding support amid the growing number of resources can be overwhelming and time consuming for startups. It can also be confusing for other players in the space, such as investors looking for deals or corporates looking to outsource innovation efforts.

For startups especially, time is a precious commodity! That’s why AgThentic and AgFunder have compiled all these resources into an online tool to help entrepreneurs, investors, and corporates find the best support for their ventures. You can browse our comprehensive list of global resources for food and ag startups, search by sector, resource type, location, funding amount, and more.

As we mapped out the ecosystem and defined the different types of resources, we also interviewed startups to understand what is working and where there’s room for improvement. We’ve learned a few lessons, so here are some questions to consider as you search for the best resources for your FoodTech or AgTech business.

What kinds of resources are out there?

Accelerators are the most common resource with over 40 dedicated to food tech and agtech, and though the promise of capital (usually around $35-50k in exchange for 5-8% equity) can be tempting, they are not the only option that can help you access funding, mentorship, and domain expertise. There are many different types of resources, each offering a distinct value proposition: some provide funding, some require in-person commitments, some are focused on specific types of companies (e.g., consumer packaged goods (CPG)), and some provide access to equipment or office space.

This is how we define the different types of resources.

Accelerator: Set duration program, often residential, where a cohort of selected early-stage companies get access to a business development curriculum and mentor and/or investor network

Corporate Incubator: Access to capital and resources of a corporation, usually, but not always, with intention of being acquired

Incubator: Physical workspace or lab that provides support such as technological expertise and mentorship; no fixed duration; rolling acceptance

Network/Ecosystem: Platform, often virtual, that provides access to resources such as mentors and investors

Pitch Competition: One-time event, usually focused on connecting startups to investors

Prize: Competition, usually culminating in a pitch event, with monetary reward

Venture Development Organization: Performs commercialization functions either as a service or by licensing IP; often they are regionally focused and have ties to corporations, universities, and/or government.

What kind of support do you need?

Rather than getting overwhelmed by the value propositions of the resources, be clear about your team’s capabilities and needs before you start the search for a resource. Define your gaps, what you’re looking for in a resource, and what will make your experience successful.

Are you looking for funding? What type(s) of investors are you seeking? Do you need to build out your team, and if so, what kind of talent do you need? Is your product ready, or are more iterations necessary? Who do you need feedback from? Are you having trouble establishing credibility? Are you trying to establish traction with users or potential customers? How much time are you willing to dedicate to your idea or startup?

What kind of commitment are you ready for?

Being part of an accelerator cohort or moving into an incubator can be a full-time job, so you won’t have time for anything else. If you’re not able- or ready- to dedicate all of your time to your startup, other options for accelerating your venture, such as pitch events and prizes, may be a better option.

Another aspect of commitment is opening up your idea and team to scrutiny by outside parties. This feedback can be extremely helpful — that’s the whole point — but it can also be painful to hear. Are you ready to let outsiders in? Are you willing to listen to their feedback?

Do you want to relocate?

Agriculture systems vary across geographies because not all crops can grow everywhere. Similarly, food products often need to gain traction and build brand loyalty in local communities before they can become national brands. Figuring out where you want to be — personally and professionally — can help you select the best resource for your company. And don’t forget to consider where your customers and potential investors will be- resources in those areas are more likely to have relevant connections.

What stage are you at?

Stage usually refers to funding (e.g., Seed vs. Series A), but more broadly, consider the maturity of your venture across team, product, traction, and strategy. Different resources are suited to different stage ventures. For example, incubators and VDOs tend to help earlier stage companies than accelerators. Similarly, some accelerators look for companies with established revenue, while others are willing to take on companies even before they have a fully commercialized product.

Here’s a set of questions you should ask yourself as you consider the different types of resources.

Accelerator:

  • Is capital guaranteed, and if so, on what terms? Are the terms negotiable? 
  • Who are the mentors and experts delivering the curriculum, and what expertise do they have? How much time will we get with our mentors, and how will the relationship be structured?
  • How big is their investor network, is it angel investors, VCs, and if so, who?
  • Is the program in person or remote? What are the expected time commitments?
  • Will the other startups in the cohort be at similar stages, and focused on similar subsectors?
  • And most importantly, make sure you do your due diligence and talk companies from prior batches.

Incubator:

  • What type(s) of labs or facilities will be provided?
  • What kind of investor or partner network does the incubator have, and what kind of access will we be granted?
  • Who are the other types of startups likely to join the incubator (e.g., across stage, subsector)?

Corporate Incubator:

  • What will your relationship be with the corporate? Who owns the IP?
  • What access will (or won’t) you have to the corporate’s physical and intangible resources?
  • Does the corporate have the capability to invest? Have they invested in startups previously?

Pitch:

  • Does the event have the right audience for your company and objectives? Be sure to tailor your pitch appropriately!
  • Is the event worth your time (e.g., travel, preparation), given that there’s no funding on offer?

Prize:

  • Does the event have the right audience for your company and objectives? Be sure to tailor your pitch appropriately!
  • Does the event have a strong reputation within your target investor or customer network?
  • Who are your competitors, and how will you stand out?

Venture Development Organization:

  • Does the management team of the VDO have relevant experience and connections?
  • What is the VDO’s business model, and does this align with your goals?
  • What types of experts and/or facilities will you have access to, and at what cost?
Do you need a sector-specific resource?

For some startups, the reputation of the program is the main reason to join. But in food and agriculture, most of the resources are still new, and it’s not yet clear which programs will be most successful. SpoilerAlert, a B2B marketplace for food waste, and FarmLogs, farm data and decision management software provider, are examples of food tech and agtech companies who decided to join tech-focused accelerators that have established reputations (TechStars and Y Combinator, respectively), rather than food or ag-specific programs. However, depending on what your company needs, the reputation of the program may be less important than the domain expertise and industry connections they can provide. A venture looking to acquire farmers as customers should look for a resource with connections to industry groups, farmers as investors or mentors, and/or strong ties to relevant corporations.

Finally, startups need to seek alignment between their own growth ambitions and that of the resources (and investors) they chose to work with. For example, accelerators or VDOs that take equity at certain valuations are looking for particular a risk/return profile and timeline to exit. Similarly, having corporates involved may pose reputational or IP risks for startups.

Help Other Entrepreneurs Learn from Your Experience

Entrepreneurship is rarely easy, but we hope that finding the support you need will be a bit easier with over 100 resources dedicated to FoodTech and AgTech startups. And if you’ve already experienced one of these resources, let your peers and the resources know where they did a good job – or where maybe they didn’t – by leaving feedback.

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