The problem is well-known: there are more people in the world than ever before, so there’s more need for food than ever before. But more people also means there’s less available land to grow that needed food. What is one to do?
That’s where agritech innovation accelerator Sprout comes in. Working with agritech startups from across New Zealand’s primary industries and boasting a bevy of big-name partners including BNZ, Callaghan Innovation, KPMG, Air New Zealand and Massey University and counting Fonterra as its supporters, the incubator has some serious firepower – or in this case, seeding power – behind it. Programme manager James Bell-Booth says it’s proof there’s a serious appetite for agritech ideas. “We have a lot happening around incubation and acceleration,” he explains. “We’re after ideas from the paddock to the plate.”
While New Zealand’s rural roots means it has a rich history to fall back on, the marketing of ideas has been an issue. Bell-Booth explains: “New Zealand does absolutely have world-class agri-innovation. But what we’re lacking is the commercialization of that innovation.”
That’s where Sprout’s accelerator comes in. Startups that are accepted into the programme receive a cash investment of $25,000, expert training and mentorship in all areas of business growth, access to a national and international investor group, and the opportunity to raise between $100,000 and $1 million of capital at the Sprout company showcase. That’s not the kind of money easily found in your back pocket.
Now in its second year, Sprout’s incubator also represents a certain coming-full-circle feeling – Sprout itself was founded in an incubator in Palmerston North. Its alumni aren’t just flash in the pan companies that wither during a financial winter, either – in July, Sprout alumni Agritrack announced it had successfully raised $550,000 from angel investors throughout New Zealand.
The stereotype of agriculture being a sector where 'tried and true' methods trump new ideas simply isn’t true, Bell-Booth explains. As evidence, he points to BioLumic, a company that uses UV light to help crops grow. The company, founded in Palmerston North, proudly proclaims it has the “world’s first UV crop enhancement system,” developed in part thanks to ten years of research into plant and UV interactions by company founder Dr Jason Wargent.
Agritrack, 2015 Sprout alums.
Other Sprout alums also have high praise. “The Sprout programme gave me the resources I needed to build a solid foundation for my business to grow,” says Julian McCurdy, CEO and managing director of Bee’z Thingz. “I have now raised $300,000 in capital, established an exceptional board of directors, and documented a clear and effective development plan into a global market.
“I would recommend the Sprout Accelerator programme for anyone wanting to take their big agtech idea to the world, regardless of your current state. I would caution that it takes a lot of courage to be able to evolve with your business and to make the decisions necessary for growth. It has not been easy but it has been rewarding.”
Logic Labs, 2015 Sprout alums.
Bell-Booth says anyone with an idea for agriculture can apply online for Sprout’s incubator. Applications close on 31 August– at which point it will be determined which ideas can take root in the incubator.
But whether or not the idea grows depends on the seed quality – or rather, the business idea.