Two new agtech accelerators have launched in the US and EU, showcasing the serious attention that businesses are starting to pay to the rapidly growing sector.
Startup Next Food & Tech
Representing a collaboration between Minnesota-based dairy cooperative Land O’Lakes and Startup Next accelerator operator Techstars, the Startup Next Food & Tech program will launch this summer. The accelerator will operate out of the company’s Minneapolis North Loop location. The program will run from August 9, 2016, to September 13, 2016. After receiving hands-on mentorship support and education during the program, startups will pitch their products and services at a Demo Day event.
Unlike traditional accelerators, the non-resident program is a part-time endeavor and Techstars will not take an equity stake in the enrolled businesses. Land O’Lakes is hoping to target startups innovating across the food production chain, including logistics technology that can help the cooperative transport its millions of gallons of milk as well as milk-processing technologies.
“We’d love to see anything from innovative consumer products to traceability tools, distribution, supply chain efficiency, safety, food processing and logistics innovation,” says Land O’Lakes website announcing the application deadline.
Startups must have teams with at least two co-founders that are in a pre-seed stage and have not achieved product/market fit. The program is willing to consider some exceptions for single-founder startups.
Startup Next, a Techstars Program, holds itself out as the top startup pre-acceleration program in the world. It focuses on preparing startups for accelerators and seed investments. Three of its core pillars include providing a global network of investors, mentors, and founders, facilitating investor introductions, and providing targeted mentorship. Its alumni hail from a broad range of sectors.
Land O’Lakes has recently made a number of forays into the tech field. Its R7 land analysis mobile application provides farmers with decision support regarding the type of seeds they should plant. Although it does not have an official venture capital branch, the cooperative is definitely keeping its eye out for startups that could help it take its business to the next level.
Applications for the Summer 2016 session are due June 30, 2016.
Iowa Ag Startup Engine
Housed at the Iowa State University Research Park, the Iowa Ag Startup Engine is an accelerator program reflecting the university’s broader desire to help foster business startup, innovation, and technology transfer.
According to Kevin Kimle, director of the Agricultural Entrepreneurship Initiative (AEI) at Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Ag Startup Engine is a natural progression of the AEI’s student incubator program.
“The incubation was sort of just me and I would find friends that could help on particular parts of the project, but as the years went on we formalized the program more because the students’ diversity of need was greater,” Kimle tells AgFunderNews. “It was on ongoing challenge—and a good one.”
Established in 2005, AEI is designed to broaden entrepreneurship among faculty and students of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences by providing educational experiences to develop students’ entrepreneurial skills and increase interaction among students, faculty and agricultural entrepreneurs. In 2016 and 2015, the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Entrepreneur of the Year has been a former student from the Agriculture Entrepreneurship Initiative.
Originally starting with just a handful of students, AEI now incubates between 10 to 15 student businesses in an academic year.
The need for a formal accelerator program became evident when Kimle and AEI saw many students having to choose between focusing on their business concept or taking a job and the security that comes with it. By their senior year, many of the students in the program have a business concept, some validation from potential customers, and even a prototype.
“If they are entrepreneurial, I can almost guarantee that they have employment alternatives. If they aren’t looking, the jobs come looking for them,” explains Kimle. “Ag Startup Engine is an expression of our attempt to provide a next step to those graduating students to have an alternative. A little bit of funding at least to help them get to the next level and to get to the point where the prototype is further developed and the business is either ready to launch or investment ready.”
The first cohort for Ag Startup Engine is slated to launch this month with a slightly longer timeline than most accelerators at six to 12 months depending on the entrepreneur’s needs. The first half will be very structured with customer validation being the primary focus. The Ag Startup Engine will invest either $25,000 or $50,000 for an equity stake. Simply participating in the accelerator will likely help the entrepreneur identify other investment avenues, says Kimle.
The first startup to participate in the engine is a company called Smart Ag from Iowa State.
As far as enrollees, Kimle says they’ve built a pipeline for identifying the top startup prospects, keeping the selection process closely held for now. So far, participants are Iowa State graduates, but the program is open to accepting applicants from other backgrounds.
“We are approaching the first few years as our time to figure it out, so I hope we get to the end of three years and we have a target number of businesses that we want to take through it and that investors look back and say how do we do more in the next three to five years,” says Kimle.
Know about any agtech accelerators, incubators, or other programs that we haven’t covered on AFN? We want to hear about them! Get in touch at [email protected].