An alternative take on the term “AgTech”, along with a deep commitment to food and agricultural sustainability, is driving Melbourne-based early-stage incubator Rocket Seeder to rethink the industry and extend its support to startups of unconventional segments of the supply chain.
For Emma Coath, one of the most important decisions she made as general manager of the early stage agriculture and food accelerator program, Rocket seederis the collective title she chose for the field usually referred to as AgTech.
“I think the definition of AgTech has historically been quite narrow and limited to the farm and digital innovation,” said the 25-year food industry veteran.
“But I believe it’s end-to-end, from farm to consumer, and the innovation covered by the term doesn’t have to be just digital.
“For me, and for the way we run Rocket Seeder, it’s very important to know your own definition. We, along with a growing number of people in Australia and many abroad, are using ‘agrifood tech’ rather than ‘AgTech’ to capture technology and ideas from across the supply chain.”
Emma worked for years in food exports to Asia, where ‘agrifood tech’ is widely used, and this may be a hint as to why the term has such a strong resonance.
However, her preference for this nomenclature has no doubt also been enhanced by Rocket Seeder’s commitment to provide lean startup coaching, access to experienced mentors, and targeted assistance to a remarkably diverse group of alumni.
A quick scan of the Rocket Seeder website shows a hodgepodge of companies that participated in the accelerator’s three- to six-month programs.
These include suppliers of superfoods, biopower, food packaging, vegetable protein, eggs, vegetables, organic products, liquid yeast, insect protein, energy recovery and digital farming platforms, educational services, livestock awards, goat meat, bacon, wine, business coaching, alcoholic beverages, data analytics and a platform for advertising and consumer insights – just to name one example.
“While we focus on early stage startups, we are very broad in the sense that it can mean anyone from a researcher at a university or a government department to a person who may not be an engineer or scientist but who is an inventor. or innovator who has developed great technology,” explains Coath.
“They can be in the food industry or be farmers themselves, which actually happens quite a lot, because we believe that innovation can come from anywhere and support people, regardless of age or educational background.
“Our focus is on working with people who have great ideas that they want to commercialize and who are interested in exploring different business models to test viability and go to market.”
Founded in 2017 by founder and noted agri-food entrepreneur and investor, Matthew Pryor, Rocket Seeder has supported 76 start-ups in the food and agriculture sector over the past five years.
The accelerator has historically operated primarily in the Victorian market, but the increasing priority of climate and sustainability, and of supporting businesses aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)extends its relevance to important global conversations.
“The food and agriculture sector contributes to climate problems, but is increasingly seen as crucial to solving or reversing these problems, so it’s a really interesting time to be involved in this space and work with people who have good ideas. and solutions they want to commercialize,” says Coath.
But it is by no means easy. The ever-present challenge of finding “smart” external financing remains the most discussed barrier in the startup community, and one of the forces motivating Rocket Seeder to connect its cohorts to the AgriFutures growAG† platform.
Coath and her team of collaborators, mentors and advisors regularly emphasize to the young companies within the accelerator that early stage funding must come from investors who want to be part of their journey and eager to help fill skills and knowledge gaps.
“We encourage our startups to do their due diligence and find investors who really want to be part of the team,” she said.
“We have used growAG to support our members as soon as they start parenting as it is the perfect platform for them to do this. The nature of the global audience means you have thousands of relevant eyes looking at commercialization opportunities and it is very focused on the ecosystem in which it operates.”
The Leaf Protein Co, part of Rocket Seeder’s 2020 cohort, combines tradition, science and technology to produce plant proteins from leafy byproducts. It is also one of three accelerator alumni who have used growAG to attract investment.
Co-founder and CEO, Fern Ho, said growAG had proven to be a critical part of The Leaf Protein Co’s growth and development as a company.
“growAG reached out to us when we were collecting our current pre-seed round and we were able to put this information on the platform,” she said.
“From there, we have attracted a lot of interested investors and people in the field, including scientists, to talk to us and help us on our journey, either through funding or expertise.
“This showed how engaged the platform is with those communities and how quickly it has gained recognition within the agrifood innovation space and beyond.”
Thanks to this success and with a clear picture of how growAG can support cohorts in the future, Coath said she now saw the platform as the ‘go to’ online destination for food and agricultural innovation.
“Everything is in one place, I think that’s a huge advantage, and it’s not just focused on the farm, but across the supply chain and across all sectors,” she said.
“The investors it reaches come from different backgrounds and it could be companies, venture capitalists, impact investors or angel investors looking at the site – and I can’t think of anything that has been that way in the past.
“I think growAG is helping to develop, grow and define the Australian agri-food sector.”
* To apply for a research project, commercialization opportunity or organization at GrowAG. to state here.