Improving yields, increasing productivity, decreasing operational overhead and filling in for supply chain shortfalls can all be encapsulated by four little letters: TECH.
The world of agriculture is pacing at quantum leaps and bounds when it comes to the ways of technological advancements, brain-bending solutions, pinpoint-precision analytics, and igniting the growers’ game.
It therefore comes as no surprise that agtech startups are popping up at increasing rates, and investors are clamoring to be at the party. In fact, total investments in the agtech sector reached over $4.3 billion during the first half of 2021. By 2025, the market value of the global agtech industry is expected to surpass the $22.5 billion mark.
Tucked within the sprawling campus at the University of Illinois, you’ll find The Illinois AgTech Accelerator, a program that recruits best-in-breed agtech startups worldwide for an intensive, 12-week accelerator. Five selected startups spend three months focused on connecting with mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors. Each startup receives a cash investment, office space, and access to gener8tor’s global network of mentors and investors.
The program is headed up by Managing Director, Jack Marck, who stands by the success of each agtech company he grooms.
“As part of our spring 2022 program, we’ve introduced five companies to almost 100 ag and business professionals who lend their knowledge and experience to help flatten the learning curve for our founders,” says Marck. “The majority of our mentors are based in Illinois, which is natural considering how much ag business is centered here. Mentorship is a major ‘unfair advantage’ for the companies that go through our program because they can discuss their technologies and business models with a range of ag professionals to really sharpen their market fit.”
Here are five agtech startups Marck says we should all be watching:
AQUAOSO is a climate fintech company that provides location-based intelligence tools to financial institutions through an SaaS-based subscription model. Agricultural lenders use AQUAOSO’s climate analytics to streamline loan processes, improve risk management functions, and easily report on climate-related risks. AQUAOSO has more than 30 customers across 10 states and an annual revenue run rate of $700k.
Says AQUAOSO CEO, Chris Peacock, “While we primarily serve banking institutions that serve farmers, Illinois farmers should know that AQUAOSO is building new financial tools to support a farmer’s long term success, and we welcome the opportunity to speak with farmers directly about the tools we are building for their banking partners.”
2. Greener Crop
Greener Crop provides data-driven hydroponic farm management to enable the deployment of hydroponic farms at a meaningful scale. Their customers are private and corporate investors, farmers, ranchers, real estate developers, hotels and restaurants, as well as food manufacturers. They support clients with the setup of their farms, supplying them with growing supplies, developing crop strategies, and operating their farm on a daily basis. Launched in August 2020, Greener Crop has generated over $350k in revenue in 2021.
“We have established that a hydroponic farm can allow farmers to diversify their production without cannibalizing their existing production and without the need for arable land,” says Greener Crop CEO, Alexander Kappes. “The controlled environment is weatherproofed and can grow year-round, and these farms provide the much-needed opportunity to involve the next generation.”
Kray Technologies develops and produces drones for crop protection which reduces application costs by more than 90 percent of existing solutions. Currently, midsize farmers have low profits and limited yield increase potential due to the high cost of crop protection application services ($10/acre), application-related yield losses (3-4 percent), and inability to apply crop protection in time or fertilize it frequently enough.
Kray Protection cuts spraying costs by more than 90 percent to less than $1/acre, eliminates yield losses to .5 percent. Kray’s low costs of spraying enables 10 times more frequent fertilization which increases yields by 20-40 percent, allowing a profitable switch into sustainable agriculture. Kray Technologies is a Delaware C-Corp and has $250k in secured revenue from systems sold and $75K in committed paid pilots for crop year 2022.
“In the not-so-far future, machinery will come into the field twice: once to seed and then once to harvest,” says Kray CEO, Dmytro Surdu. “During most of the time in between, you will see electric drones flying low over fields making almost no noise. Most times, these drones will sense leaf nitrogen content remotely and determine diseases, weeds, and pests and choose the appropriate amount of solution for spraying – making decisions millions of times per day, extending a farmer’s capability to decide, care, and grow.”
Sensegrass is a soil intelligence platform for agriculture. They use a combination of artificial intelligence (AI)-based recommendations and soil sensors to deliver real-time soil health analyses and targeted nutrient management. SenseGrass helps ag professionals reduce synthetic fertilizer use, increase crop yields, and grow more sustainably. SenseGrass is a Delaware C-Corp and has generated $147k in revenue since June 2020 and is currently generating $12k MRR.
According to SenseGrass CEO, Lalit Gautam, “Our product is designed for large scale row crops farms like soy, corn and agronomic corporates to reduce input costs, especially the use of nitrogen, and improve productivity by reducing labor costs in soil testing and agronomic advice.”
Shepherd is taking a completely new approach to solving one of the largest and costliest problems in the agriculture industry: the labor shortage. With a task management-based approach, the Shepherd platform ensures that every worker knows exactly what they’re accountable for and how to do it best, reducing waste and boosting operational efficiency.
Shepherd accomplishes this by giving farm management the tools and insights they need to make data-driven decisions to run their operations better. Shepherd is a Raleigh, NC based Delaware C Corp with $300k in revenues since 2019 and over 28,000 farm acres on the platform.
“Right now, we’re talking with several parts of the farm economy about how we can work with them to help them serve their farm customers better,” says Shepherd CEO, Tyler McGee. “For example, imagine all of the spraying tasks happening on your fields giving your retailer the information they need to know when you’re going to need more chemical and exactly when and where it needs to be delivered. That’s really where we see Shepherd heading – connecting all of the pieces of the agriculture supply chain both on the farm and off to make it seamless, and to give farmers a way to have every part fall into place at exactly the right time and know that they’re running as efficiently as possible.”
And though Marck is using his voice at Illinois AgTech Accelerator to encourage a culture of divergent thinking and next-level innovation, he is deeply rooted in the real-world pain points and prospects of Illinois farmers.
“Any new technology that farmers are expected to adopt should either put more money in their pocket or leave them with more time added to their day,” says Marck. “All of these companies are working on solutions that support one or both of those outcomes, either directly or indirectly, by improving the efficiency of how we produce ag-based products. Whether they are driving down the cost of chemical application, optimizing crop inputs and timing, offering novel crop diversification opportunities, optimizing labor utilization, or helping lenders and crop insurance companies optimize their offerings, all of these technologies stand to benefit the Illinois farmer.”