Hacker Unit, a startup accelerator that offers programs across industries, is turning its attention towards agriculture technology for its upcoming cohort.
The organization has graduated two cohorts already, in artificial intelligence and virtual reality, and has a blockchain and a transport program currently in progress.
Applications for the agtech program close on Sunday, January 15, and the program will start on January 23.
Why Agtech Now?
“It’s been in our mind for a couple of months now,” Clemence Vincent, director of Hacker Unit, tells AgFunderNews. “We’re seeing a lot of acquisitions in the space and some partner corporations expressed their interest in this vertical. Technology has a role to play in transforming agriculture as we need it to solve the challenges of the next decades of feeding the planet.”
Despite the acquisitions and investments pouring into the agtech space, Vincent and the Hacker Unit team have identified a need for external innovation. She also noted the Hacker Unit team’s personal interest in agtech and a genuine desire to learn more about the agriculture industry.
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Having worked in a variety of sectors, including AI, blockchain, and virtual reality, Hacker Unit can compare spaces.
“For agtech, one funny thing we’ve discovered is that you can feel the maturity of the industry through the design approach. You can feel that the industry has existed for a very long time. It’s also very down to earth.”
How Does Hacker Unit Work?
Unlike many other startup resources—and there are as many as 90 of them—Hacker Unit is conducted entirely online. Startups can participate remotely, alleviating some of the financial and logistical pressures that often come with needing to relocate for an accelerator program.
“The idea is was that you can participate no matter where you are,” says Vincent. “Some agtech accelerators will provide a place to work from and a desk. We don’t provide that because the startups we select already have this. We are more focused on helping them build a network and getting them into more regions or markets.”
Hacker Unit also employs a different business model to most accelerators, which tend to invest a portion into their cohort in return for equity stakes. Instead, Hacker Unit strikes a commission deal with each startup. If the startup signs a deal or raises funding with an entity that Hacker Unit introduces them to within 18 months of the program, the organization takes a commission. If they don’t get any financial value out of the program, it’s all free. This arrangement reflects Hacker Unit’s commitment to their success, says Vincent.
Four pillars underscore this success: boosting business development among corporations, increasing visibility among investors, learning from other founders in the same industry, and fine tuning business materials.
“The core component of the program and what we are doing for startups has more to do with the business side. It’s more about introductions to large corporations and improving their visibility among investors,” explains Vincent. “Having them work with their business material, coaching them on their landing page, deck, executive summary, and making sure they show the best value proposition and profile are key.”
Hacker Unit Picks AgFunder Alumni Mentors
Mentors also play a big role in the program’s format. Hacker Unit defines mentors as folks who are very skilled in their own field. Two of their mentors are AgFunder alumni: John Corbett CEO of aWhere and Kevin France, CEO of SWIIM.
“One of the pillars of the program is product oriented. We are not the experts, so we go and look for mentors who are founders of companies in the same field. That’s how we picked Kevin and John. They are more advanced, and they speak the same language of the startup that is going to be in the program.”
For the agtech round, Hacker Unit has enlisted at least nine seasoned entrepreneurs and company creators to guide the enrolled startups. Current mentors also include the founders of food waste tech Apeel Sciences, and robotic weeding company Blue River Technology.
Picking the Cohort
With so many new and existing agtech startups to choose from, picking their cohort could prove challenging.
“It’s hard to define quality. It’s diverse,” explains Vincent. “So, we are focusing on a company’s development stage. The program is not for people who have just an idea and who want to create a proof of concept. We are looking for people who are a bit more advanced than that.”
The startups that have already applied for the agtech program are diverse, Vincent says. Some are very technical on hardware, whereas others are purely data management software. They’ve also seen a lot of sensor-focused startups.
“What’s exciting is that the technology covers all spectrums of the industry from biotech working on the plant or crop itself, to being in the field and figuring out how to handle data there; all the way up to post-harvest technologies.”
To select the agtech cohort, the Hacker Unit team will create a shortlist of companies that are advanced enough and ensure they’ve got enough diversity. Then, they will conduct interviews with the founders and make a final decision.
As for its track record, Hacker Unit has seen successes in prior cohorts covering the virtual reality and AI sectors.
“Two startups raised their Series A during the program, Riminder and ZipGo, with one of those raises coming from one of our investors,” explains Vincent. “Opuscope worked with Orange, and Legal Robot collaborated with Axa Insurance to mention a couple.”
Hacker Unit is currently running accelerator programs in the blockchain and transport sectors, and will conduct a robotics-themed program alongside the upcoming agtech program.
To find out more or apply, click here.