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May 3, 2016

THE THRIVE PROGRAM: Accelerating Toward an Innovative Ag Future

Hearts are racing, palms are clammy and nerves are out of control. As the initial beads of sweat drop down contestants’ foreheads, the first team of agtech innovators begins to pitch their idea to the judges.

Start-up companies from around the world pitched their hearts out on March 22-23 to earn a coveted spot in the THRIVE Accelerator Program. THRIVE Accelerator, which is hosted by SVG Partners and supported by sponsors such as Western Growers and Taylor Farms, is a highly-selective mentorship and investment program that offers guidance and other assistance to new agtech and foodtech businesses. Companies chosen for this rigorous eight-week boot camp will participate in a series of events that will give them the business and technical skills needed to best deploy their innovative technologies.

“The program was developed to give companies a competitive advantage,” said Chris Boody, chief technology officer and partner at SVG Partners. “These startups will connect with the most successful business owners in agriculture and hear their views, first hand, on what makes an ideal partnership and a desired product.”


Conquering Seed Camp

This is the third year of the THRIVE Accelerator program, and 2016 has turned out to be the most competitive. More than 200 applications from companies representing 36 countries were received…more than double the 90 applications from 20 countries received in 2015.

After careful review of each applicant, SVG Partners selected 36 companies to advance to the next level of competition—the “Seed Camp.” These enterprises were invited to travel to Salinas, CA, to pitch their innovations to a panel of experts from the agricultural, technology and investment industries.

“THRIVE Seed Camp provides companies the unique opportunity to put their best foot forward and pitch to distinguished judges from across the industry,” said Boody.

This year’s Seed Camp was broken out into two sessions: virtual presentations (March 22) and Seed Camp Day presentations (March 23). Companies that were overseas and unable to travel to Salinas pitched to the judges via Skype and Google Hangouts at the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology. The remaining contestants pitched their innovations in person in the Taylor Farms’ offices during Seed Camp Day. Among the judges were five Western Growers members and representatives:

•   Alec Leach, President, Taylor Farms

•   Vic Smith, President & CEO, JV Smith Companies

•   Joe Ferrari, Vice President, Ag Operations, Dole Fresh Vegetables

•   Dennis Donohue, President, Royal Rose Radicchio

•   Hank Giclas, Senior Vice President, Strategic Planning, Science & Technology, Western Growers

“We strongly value the partnership we’ve established with Western Growers and we are so fortunate to tap the expertise of its members and leaders for this year’s THRIVE competition,” said Boody. “Western Growers is held in such high regard in the industry, and we appreciate how dedicated members are to helping prepare these startups for the opportunities and possible challenges they will face in the marketplace.”

All startups had six minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by a two-minute question and answer session with the judges. Companies were evaluated on 1) leadership capability of the team; 2) benefit and adoption ease of the solution/product; 3) market potential; 4) competitive position; and 5) business model and “go to market” plan.


Advancing to AgTech Boot Camp

After the final innovation was pitched, judges convened to choose finalists who scored home runs. Only 10 finalists were supposed to be awarded a spot in the THRIVE Accelerator, but the decision was so difficult that the organizers increased the 10 finalists to 12. Three residents in the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology—GeoVisual Analytics, Inteligistics and Specright—are among the 12.

“We were so impressed with the high caliber of startups that pitched during THRIVE Seed Camp,” said Western Growers Senior Vice President of Strategic Planning, Science & Technology Hank Giclas, who was a Seed Camp judge and is a THRIVE Accelerator mentor. “Developing innovative solutions to the world’s most critical farming challenges is the focus of our Center for Innovation & Technology so I was thrilled to participate in the presentations from companies working on ground-breaking technologies and services that may have a role in the fresh produce industry.”

All finalists will participate in weekly mentor meetings, business strategy reviews, individual pitch trainings and networking sessions with some of the world’s top agriculture companies. Throughout the program, innovators will be matched with appropriate growers and ag enterprises to test out their technology and get it ready for deployment. They will also have access to the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology and Salinas Valley, as well as be eligible for possible venture capital funding from SVG Partners.

The 12 finalists are as follows:

•   GeoVisual Analytics: provides quantitative maps of crop health, growth stages, weed pressure and projected yield by analyzing high-detailed imagery captured by drones.

•   Inteligistics: ensures food safety by offering wireless temperature visibility systems that monitor perishable products and provide alerts in case of unacceptable temperature.

•   Specright: offers a cloud-based platform where customers can input and manage data to ensure that their specifications for packaging are met.

•   Acuity Agriculture: builds wireless sensor networks to monitor real-time farm conditions, which help farmers reduce water use, salt buildup and nutrient runoff.

•   Agribody Technologies, Inc.: offers patented technology to improve crop yields and increase plants’ tolerance to diseases and environmental stresses through transgenic modulation or genome editing in plants.

•   AGVOICE: allows ag professionals to capture information as it happens through a voice-first platform that can work on any smartphone; aka the “SIRI of Agriculture.”

•   Edyn: develops smart soil moistures sensors and irrigation controllers to help farms and garden thrive.

•   Food Origins: provides information regarding the progress of the harvest, the density of the production in the field, and the velocity of the harvest using data that is passed via the cloud.

•   MagGrow (Agricultural Magnetics): enables growers to reduce the application of crop protection chemicals by imparting an electromagnetic charge into the sprayed liquid so it will be directly attracted to the plant’s natural electromagnetic field.

•   Soliculture: delivers power-generating greenhouse panels that fine-tune light for crops while simultaneously producing electricity.

•   Trace Genomics: allows customers to obtain strain-specific information on a large panel of soil-borne pathogens with one test and 1-2 week turnaround time, with a simple disease risk report.

•   Wheyhey: offers the world’s first great-tasting, high protein, sugar free and all natural ice cream—developed in response to big foods continuously marketing snacks high in sugar, fat, calories.

Once all 12 companies have gone through extensive training in the boot camp, they will have the opportunity to pitch their solution/product one last time. One winner will be chosen and recognized at the Forbes AgTech Summit, which takes place July 13-14 in Salinas.


Taking Center Stage at the Forbes AgTech Summit

The ultimate winner will be honored at the summit in front of 500 of the brightest minds in agriculture. They will also receive national and international press recognition and will be qualified for funding possibilities by multiple ventures, said Boody.

Western Growers continues to bolster its strategic relationship with Forbes in a collaborative effort to advance the agtech industry. In addition to sponsoring this year’s Forbes AgTech Summit, Western Growers President & CEO Tom Nassif and Taylor Farms Founder & CEO Bruce Taylor (a WG member) will be among the speakers.

As a benefit of Western Growers’ partnership with Forbes, all members will receive $250 off the regular admission price. All regular members should have received an e-mail invitation and discount code from Western Growers.

“This is the perfect opportunity for entrepreneurs and ag professionals from around the world to come together and discuss innovative initiatives and solutions that will advance our industry as a whole. The synergy that will result from this year’s summit will be unmatched and we strongly encourage members to attend,” said Giclas.