The Thrive Accelerator program, which was launched last July to foster innovation in the agricultural sector, reached a milestone in early March when 10 of the most innovative firms gave 20 minute presentations of their business ideas to a panel of judges.
The judges were charged with scoring the concepts and the top three scorers will be further honored at the Ag Tech Summit that will be held in Salinas on July 8 and 9, 2015. Western Growers Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning, Science & Technology, Hank Giclas was one of the judges and was quite impressed with the presentations. The goal is to “accelerate” innovation in the industry and to encourage entrepreneurs to come up with outside-the-box thinking in the ag space. The idea is an offshoot of the “Reinventing America” effort of Forbes magazine. This agricultural Thrive Accelerator is classified under Forbes “Reinventing Agriculture” platform.
Forbes and SVG Partners, an investment and advisory firm also operating in the ag space as it relates to technology, put this program together and opened the process up last July to all comers. Giclas said about 75 firms responded to the initial Thrive Accelerator RFP (request for proposal). Companies were given access to professionals in the ag industry to explore their ideas and develop proposals. Eventually 30 companies were invited to a December “Seed Camp” to give seven-minute pitches to a panel of judges. Ten finalists were picked and accepted into the Thrive Accelerator.
The judges had a difficult time winnowing down the initial entrants but eventually 10 finalists did make the cut and entered into an intense development program that lasted two months. Each of the 10 companies received support from and access to the Steinbeck Innovation Center’s vast global network of mentors from Silicon Valley and the Salinas Valley. In addition, each had an individual mentor from agriculture. For example, Giclas was a mentor to one of the firms. Throughout January and February, these firms also had access to the top research and development staffs from some of the largest fresh agricultural companies in the world.
On March 4, the presentations were made and the judges graded them. Giclas said no one will know the winners until the announcement during the July summit. He said the judges were a very diverse group including some from production agriculture as well as academia and the technology sector. “I’m sure every judge had different priorities that were important to them, including the investment angle.”
Giclas explained that part of this process is to not only find new solutions for agricultural issues but to find companies that would make for a good investment. During the Accelerator program the 10 companies did take part in an “investor day” on which they could pitch their ideas to venture capitalists. During the 20-minute presentations, Giclas said each judge was given a scorecard with various criteria on which to grade. Those scorecards were collected and will be tallied to determine the top three scorers.
“For me I was looking for innovations that could benefit the grower community as quickly as possible. There were several presentations for innovations that may be good investments and may have utility for agriculture down the road but won’t immediately help our members.” Though everyone was judging on the same set of criteria, Giclas said no doubt other judges came to the table with a different set of priorities, and were drawn to other innovations.
He added that some of the companies were pure start-ups with ideas on paper, while others were already going concerns with products on the market.
Giclas particularly liked a presentation from a firm that turns green waste at retail—and potentially at a produce processing plant—into a beneficial soil additive. That firm is already operating and has a contract with one Northern California retailer to take its fresh produce waste and turn it into fertilizer. Another idea that caught Giclas’ eye was the development of a bolt-on module that can be added to a stationary motor—like an irrigation pump—and immediately improve fuel efficiency 15 percent, while also reducing emissions. He said that concept appears to have immediate applicability for the grower community.
Both of those ideas, Giclas said, have a sustainability at play that could very well appeal to production agriculture.
Regardless of who is chosen to be the ultimate top three, Giclas said the Thrive Accelerator has already accomplished what it set out to do, which is attract innovative minds to the ag space. This approach has aided the development of technologies in other industries, and there is great interest in applying it to the agricultural sector as a way to jump start innovation in one of the world’s oldest professions.
The 10 companies making presentations on March 4, of which three finalists will be picked, are:
California Safe Soil, LLC, Sacramento, CA
Waste – Food Recycling; www.calsafesoil.com
We are a fresh food recycler. A typical supermarket throws away about 600 pounds of food a day. Most of it ends up in landfills. We have a unique system to capture that food before it rots, convert it into a homogeneous liquid fertilizer full of “building block” nutrients, and pasteurize it, for food safety. We are the “fork to farm” side of the “farm to fork” movement. See our video, http://youtu.be/WMpnPTfYPbY.
GeoVisual Technologies, Boulder, CO
Drone – (UAVs); www.geovisual-analytics.com
We combine images and ground truth from multiple sources and scales for the best available monitoring. Drones will be grounded for a while and high resolution satellite imagery is costly. We start with free, global Landsat. We know how to derive intel from raw images and how to fuse diverse data (images, weather, soil) to create the most accurate, up-to-date maps. As cheaper higher res imagery arrives (e.g. Google SkyBox; drones), our solution gets even better.
GreenOnyx, Tel Aviv, Israel
Urban Farming; www.greenonyx.biz
GreenOnyx will develop, build and sell systems and proprietary bio-seed and fertilize consumables as part of an urban agriculture solution that can rapidly scale globally via a unique mass distributed architecture. The systems supplies on demand, a nutritional dense super vegetable that could be applied to multiple health and wellness food segments.
Harvest Automation, Billerica, MA
Robotics – Nursery & Field; www.harvestai.com
Harvest Automation is a material handling company that develops robots to address some of the most challenging issues facing the world. Our novel, pragmatic approach to robot design seeks to understand where robots and people provide the most value so that working alongside each other, they will be most productive. We believe that in the future, agriculture will find that the best solution is the combination of people and robots, working together.
Innovative Green, Scottsdale, AZ
Energy – Diesel Fuel Tech; www.innovativegreentech.com
GT is a technology company dedicated to commercializing innovative green technology products that deliver profit as well as a positive environmental impact. We aim to introduce proprietary green technologies that are sustainable and financially viable for our customers while providing economic benefits for our shareholders and environmental benefits for our planet.
Inteligistics, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA
Platform – Cold Supply Chain; www.inteligistics.com
We offer innovative cool chain temperature visibility solutions to the fresh produce industry using “Internet of Things” and “Big Data” technologies. We integrate low power wireless (Zigbee/Bluetooth) sensors and “Machine to Machine” communications via smart gateways and patented circuits. Our Cloud-based software enables user-friendly web services, graphics, reports, dashboards and alerts in order to enable highly-effective customer operations.
Lotpath, Inc., Fresno, CA
Mobile – Inspections; lotpath.com
Lotpath is a technology company that creates software products and custom software solutions for customers in the food and agriculture industry. Lotpath is headquartered in Fresno, which puts it in close proximity to all of the California agricultural and food production regions. The Lotpath office is located in a tech hub with daily access to many talented software developers (http://bitwiseindustries.com).
mOasis, Inc., Union City, CA
Bio-Tech – Soil Additive for Water; www.mOasisgel.com
mOasis’ proprietary technology, Aquamers, can hold 250 times its weight in water when used as a soil amendment or seed coating. The product holds excess water near the seeds or roots and releases it as soil dries resulting in less plant stress and significantly higher crop yields while reducing water needs. BountiGel can also improve nutrient management and reduce runoff and soil erosion. Initial target is high value crops in California, Arizona and Mexico.
Nuritas, Dublin, Ireland
Bio-Tech – Bioactive Peptides; www.nuritas.com
We are an ingredients discovery company. We use our unique proprietary predictive bioinformatics platform to quickly assess a source material, whether it be from crop, animal or algae bi-product, and discover bioactive peptide ingredients with health benefits. Our platform has a strong proof of concept having already discovered numerous impressive peptides in only a matter of months, including an anti-inflammation property.
UrbanFarmers AG, Zürich, Switzerland
Urban Farming; www.urbanfarmers.com
Driven by the vision that 20 percent of fresh produce could and should be grown in the city, UF provides innovative solutions for commercial and sustainable food production in urban areas. UF develops and operates urban farms growing fish and vegetables based on a recirculating water system technology Aquaponics. The produce is sold from these urban farms directly into grocery retailers through long-term produce purchase agreements (LPPA’s).