Seeing as it’s one of the world’s foremost agricultural producers and a highly advanced tech-based economy, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that Australia didn’t have an organized, membership-based industry group for agritech until a few months ago.
The Australian Agritech Association formally launched in February this year, “to foster a world-class agritech ecosystem and help create a prosperous future for Australian agrifood innovation.”
Among the five founding board members were Sarah Nolet and Matthew Pryor. The association isn’t the only first in Australia’s agrifoodtech scene that the pair are responsible for.
According to Nolet, Tenacious Ventures — the firm that she and Pryor co-founded — is the first dedicated VC in Australia focused solely on agrifoodtech. It announced its first investment last month when it co-led Goterra‘s A$8 million ($5.55 million) Series A round alongside its own LP Grok Ventures. Goterra is an on-site food waste management technology and service that disposes of waste via modular insect farms. Its clients range from food processors, restaurants and consumers.
“When I came to Australia about four-and-a-half years ago, there was not much of an early-stage startup ecosystem here for agrifoodtech,” says Nolet, who emigrated from the US.
The first agrifood accelerator began not long after she arrived and others have launched since then, she tells AFN. These efforts have been able to build on the country’s strong foundations in both farming and agricultural research. But the ecosystem now needs to take a step up – and the conditions are just right.
“What we were really lacking here was that commercialization piece. Then, deal flow got better, fluency with the startup ‘language’ got better, and Matthew and I saw an opportunity to start a fund,” she says.
Nolet established her agrifoodtech consulting business, AgThentic, in 2015. The firm took Pryor on as a partner in late 2018 after he departed Observant, the agricultural water management platform he founded in 2003, which was later acquired by India’s Jain Irrigation Systems. He’d also previously worked with Melbourne-based accelerator Rocket Seeder, giving him a wide-ranging network in the startup ecosystem.
“At the same time, investors were calling [AgThentic] asking for due diligence and how they could put funds to work in the space, so we had that as well as the dealflow side,” Nolet says.
With access to both investors and entrepreneurs, Nolet and Pryor decided to set up Tenacious Ventures to run alongside AgThentic. The fund made its first close of A$20 million ($13.9 million) earlier this year. Covid-19 has slowed down the fundraising process, but the firm’s targeting a final close of A$30 million.
The firms invests from Seed to Series A stage all along the supply chain, from farm to fork.
As for Goterra, both Nolet and Pryor have known the founder, Olympia Yarger, for many years now and watched the business grow. “We believe it represents everything we’re looking for at Tenacious; a remarkable founder who shows traits in all the right buzzwords: grit, passion, hustle — as well as business model innovation, due to the decentralized nature of its modular, on-site waste units,” says Nolet. “Right now with waste, you have mostly centralized solutions and complicated logistics where you have to truck waste out of inhabited places to handle. Goterra’s system, which involves Black Solider Fly large, means you don’t have to do that and the system can be adapted for different customers and markets.”
Currently Goterra is only in Australia but there are plans to look further afield into Southeast Asia in the future, she adds.