India is currently witnessing the launch of its first Food and Agri-business Accelerator program. Many entities are involved with the accelerator, with the IIMA Centre for Innovation Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) and a-IDEA, the business incubator at Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s (ICAR) National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM) leading the program. The partners hope to accelerate, nurture, and garner investment in a variety of early-stage start-ups that have the potential to become scalable and competitive ventures in the food and agri-business space.
According to Vipul Patel, associate vice president with Agri Investments, CIIE, “While the agri investments have picked up in the recent years, support for start-ups at the early and pre-revenue stages continues to be limited. With this accelerator, we will be able to scout, accelerate and invest in startups that are trying to address the existing gaps in this sector through product and process innovation.” As Patel sees it, the AgTech sector does not have the same ecosystem of investors, entrepreneurs, scientists, and researchers that other sectors like IT currently enjoy. The accelerator is designed to provide an ecosystem for AgTech in India and throughout the greater region.
CIIE and NAARM have identified a number of Agtech subsectors for their accelerator program, including precision farming, sustainable inputs, healthy/innovative food tech, farm mechanization, and farm fresh retail. Applications for the program became available on May 20, 2015 and are due by June 12, 2015. Six start-ups will be selected to participate in the accelerator. The cohort will be announced on July 6, 2015 and the first Workshop at ICAR-NAARM will take place in late July.
Start-ups selected for the program will receive a number of benefits, including capacity building, individual mentoring, and advisory support from many top-notch industry experts.
During the workshop, the teams will create a plan for the initial two-month duration of the program and will be paired with mentors and experts for one-on-one consultations. The accelerator period will begin following the workshop and run through early September. At the workshop, each team will be assigned a CIIE champion, who will supervise the teams and ensure that they are on track with the plans that they created. In the accelerator phase, the teams will have access to a larger network of experts for technical, market, and business guidance in addition to access to state-of-the-art technical facilities at NAARM for prototyping and testing.
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Strategic partners such as Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, IDMC Ltd. and Agri Investor (a global media platform for agri investments) shall provide active mentoring support to the startups to help them become investment ready.
The teams will ultimately be gearing up for Demo Day in mid-September 2015. Demo day will provide the teams with an opportunity to pitch their ideas and showcase their business models to invited investors in addition to CIIE, CIBA, and NAARM. Ultimately, two start-ups will be chosen for a seed investment of $50,000 each from CIIE, CIBA, and NAARM. Although the initial part of the program will involve this intensive three-month phase, the six participants will receive at least a year of support from the accelerator.
According to Patel, there will also be opportunities for participants to engage with other venture capital firms and angel investors. For example, Infuse Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund focusing on sustainability and clean energy, will evaluate each of start-ups with scalable business models in four specific sectors (ecision farming; supply chain technology; soil, weather and water technology) for Series A funding.
CIIE has also partnered with leading agri focused funds such as Omnivore Partners, Aspada Investments and Rural Agri Ventures, who will consider the ventures for potential investments. In addition to these, other
The partners have set some high-standards for selecting participants. CIIE and NAARM “Expect the teams to be willing to learn and gain from the experience and networks of the program partner and mentors.” Considering that the mentors will be giving a great deal of their personal time to the participants, selectees must be open to taking direction and respecting the gravity of the opportunity.
Patel says that there are four pillars to success that the team will build over time. One, is creating an AgTech ecosystem; two, is fostering an Entrepreneur in Residence (EIR) program to help build companies in areas where there is a lack of entrepreneurship; three, is the accelerator program; and four, is the small fund that will make investments in these companies.
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