Editor’s Note: Sam Trethewey is general manager of SproutX, Australia’s first agtech accelerator program which recently completed its first pre-accelerator cohort. This program was designed for very early stage business ideas and was mostly done remotely. The cohort culminated in a virtual pitch day last week. Here, Trethewey and his colleagues share their key learnings from the process, which started as an idea in February.
Like watching a child grow is the best way I can describe the experience of seeing Australia’s first cohort of agtech entrepreneurs come through an acceleration program. It was a wonderful moment and an exciting one for Australia.
Over 300 people from around the nation applied to participate with only 100 making it in (that was a long night full of tough decisions!). The 6-week program was open to early stage ideas or talented individuals without an idea who wanted to learn about agtech and lean startup methodology.
The course was delivered online and with weekly meetup sessions in Melbourne for those that could make it, but social media was awash with discussions, collaborations and networking as the cohort grew. There were one-on-one mentoring sessions and a line-up of seasoned entrepreneurs and subject matter experts who stretched the minds and comfort zones of our teams.
To keep the learnings short and sharp for you, I’ve asked Andrew Lai, SproutX accelerator director, a few questions for you and provided some of my own comments alongside his responses.
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Sam: What feedback did you get from participants in the early stages of the program?
Andrew: The most common bit of feedback from our group of entrepreneurs was the pathway SproutX offered regarding what to do next. Though many of the founders had tremendous experience and skills, they had been sitting on their ideas for sometimes years, and they just didn’t know how to go about implementing them.
Andrew nails it here, in fact – that was the whole reason Findex and the National Farmers Federation joined forces to start SproutX. There has been no support network for entrepreneurs in this space, and as agtech is quite specific and struggles in generic programs and spaces, the networking, cross-pollination of knowledge and even emotional support were vital to the cohort’s successful completion.
Sam: What were the more specific learnings you felt the cohort experienced?
Andrew: As with all pre-accelerator type courses, the biggest challenge is always to get people to get out of the office and in front of customers. A founder might think they have the best idea in the world, but they generally receive a sobering reality check once they speak to potential customers about it.
Market Validation. Need we say more.
Sam: Mate we’ve had an enormous year as SproutX was just an idea in February. What has been your greatest takeaway from this course as it’s director?
Andrew: From SproutX’s perspective, the Pre-Accelerator validated our own theory that Australia is a hotbed for agtech with enormous latent potential. Personally, it’s been the incredible passion of the participants, and the national interest has been tremendous. Passion is something we see in most agricultural sectors all around the world, and it was great to see that infiltrate into agtech and to drive relationships and long, productive days for our teams.
On to 2017
I think it’s important to add that SproutX is also a startup and as a takeaway, traction has been our biggest enabler. We’ve come into a conservative sector with suppressed capacity and a never-seen-before service amidst suffocating hype around ‘innovation.’ Interest in all corners has never diverted from us, but nothing has beat traction.
Showing off the goods to existing and potential stakeholders has accelerated our progress and fed value back into our own model as it evolves to meet market needs.
2017 will see us maintain this momentum to deliver a full accelerator program and continue the community building.