Forbes, the renowned American biweekly magazine, recently put on a 400-strong conference for the AgTech community. The event was part of the magazine’s “Reinventing America” series which managing editor Dan Bigman launched two years ago after noticing that a lot of innovation between America’s two coasts was being overlooked. So he wanted to make a concerted effort to find out who the innovators were and through this initiative started looking at agriculture technology.
“Agriculture quickly stood out as one industry that was really ripe for a big change, and that change was coming very quickly. There was lots of excitement around it,” Dan Alexander, a reporter at Forbes who helped moderate the event and find speakers, recently told AgFunderNews.
The event’s speakers hailed from a range of agribusinesses, government bodies, start-ups and investment firms including Monsanto, John Deere, Driscolls, Mars, DuPont Pioneer, Western Growers Association, Verizon, Innovation Endeavours and more.
What did Alexander think of the speaker line-up?
“They were really high caliber speakers and we were very pleased with how it turned out. It was our intention to get the exact sorts of people that are shaping the AgTech industry going forward. It was terrific that we were able to bring leaders of the space to the event; several of the most exciting, promising young start-ups alongside large established companies that have dominated agriculture for so long. And it was exciting to see how people from both communities interacted and discussed tackling the same problems.”
The location — City of Salinas — was a big draw for speakers and attendees and the city played a big role in the event, according to Alexander. “They were really excited about the location and it was really nice to be close enough to Silicon Valley to attract the venture capital industry, but also be in an agricultural setting that would appeal to people from all over the US,” he said.
AgFunderNews published its own takeaways of the event a couple of weeks ago. But what did Alexander take from the event?
“My biggest takeaway was that the event really confirmed that AgTech is a really exciting industry. There are a ton of companies with big ideas that make a lot of sense, it’s just that they are still very young. This is like the beginning of the internet was 15 years ago but for agri. Inevitably lots of these companies will be super successful. So there was a lot of excitement from investors about the sorts of companies and ideas they were hearing about and meeting with, highlighting the interest in AgTech from people in the financial community.”
“The level of engagement from everyone in the room was also very notable,” he added. “Sometimes at these events you will see people coming in and out just for their own part. But it was really exciting that everyone there, including the biggest name speakers, were really engaged the entire time. I think that speaks to the fact that a lot of the crowd that came were really engaged and interested in the sector.”
What else excites him about AgTech?
“The future of data and software companies versus hardware companies in agri will be very interesting to watch play out. A lot of data companies have by traditional metrics come farther, raised more money or been around for longer with great engagement from customers and partners, than hardware technology companies.”
“Hardware requires so much more investment upfront and the players in that space are so big, such as John Deere, that no-one really knows how startups will do in that environment. Hardware has a much longer investment horizon which is tougher for venture capital, and Silicon Valley just isn’t as familiar with hardware as other parts of the country are.”
“Both sides have such big ideas but yet a start-up for data and a start-up for robots are very different things so it might require a different demographic of investors.”
What would he change next year?
“I think it was a really great group of people that we brought together and we have had lots of great feedback. I hope that in future we can make it even bigger and bring in more of the same sorts of people. As companies develop and mature, it will be fun to see at later events some of the start-ups of today as dominant players in the industry. The event will evolve with the industry.”
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