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AgTech Investing Report – 2015 – AgFunder


Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
~ Steve Jobs, Co-founder, CEO, Chairman Apple Inc.

What Are Young Agricultural Entrepreneurs Working On?

I ask many friends to serve as panelists and speakers for the entrepreneurship course I teach at Iowa State University, Entrepreneurship in Agriculture.  These folks, and others, ask what students in the course are interested in and working on.  I suppose the curiosity arises from looking to young aspiring entrepreneurs for creative thinking on new opportunities.

This week students in the course will pitch their favorite of the 2 or 3 new business ideas they’ve developed in the course.  I went through the list of business concepts to be pitched and categorized them by subject.  Most are agricultural businesses, 83%, with non-agriculture businesses in the ‘Consumer Products & Services’ and ‘Social Impact categories the remaining 17%.

Student Business Proposals By Category
Entrepreneurship in Agriculture Course
Spring 2016 Semester, 92 Students

Category                                                                        Percentage
Consumer Products & Services                                      14%
Artisan/Speciality Food & Beverage                             12%
Farm Services                                                                    12%
Recreation/Hunting/Outdoors                                      12%
Plant & Animal Health/Genetics                                   12%
Agri-Tourism                                                                       8%
Precision Agriculture                                                         7%
Logistics, Risk Management, Marketing                       5%
Decision Support Technology                                          5%
Robotics/Farm & Livestock Equipment                        5%
Agricultural Processing                                                     4%
Social Impact                                                                       3%

I work the students through various exercises to see if we can identify new business ideas that come from something unique to their experiences or observations.  In particular, many of their ideas come from:

  1. A problem they’ve noticed or experienced that others haven’t noticed.
  2. An experiment, accident of circumstance, or heritage activity from their past.
  3. A personal passion and interest.

The top category in the AgFunder report linked to above for 2015 investments was Food Commerce, a category ignored by students.  Curious, but local grocery HyVee has started online ordering and delivery, so maybe this isn’t such an interesting spot for entrepreneurs living in Ames.

Other top categories of 2015 investment from the AgFunder report line up better with student interest; drones & robotics, decision support technology, and soil & crop technology for example.  The students’ interest in animal health and technology relative to 2015 funding certainly reflects Iowa agriculture relative to other areas, heavily concentrated in the animal protein supply chain.

What categories of student business plan or investment will be the most attractive when we look back ten or twenty years from now?  I suspect certain themes will run through winning businesses.  To suggest a several:

  • Time/labor saving technology – It’s an old story in agriculture, but technologies that save labor win in the long-run.  Robotics offers a myriad of potential applications to take labor out of various processes in agriculture.
  • Unique food ingredients and products – Consumer interest in food products with a story will continue to grow. Where was it grown?  How was it grown?  What makes it different?  What experiences are coupled with the food?
  • Data at the right time and place – We have a lot of data in agriculture today.  The question is what to do with it. Technologies, services, models, and algorithms that enable decision making at points in time where those decisions make a difference in outcomes will win.
  • Disruptive economic models – New technologies and accompanying business model innovations enable challenges to existing supply chains and logistics models.  Some may create significant changes in unit economics for production of certain agricultural products /commodities which will drive changes in place of production and logistics of product movement.

What are the most interesting categories of future business opportunities for you?  Why?