There’s a very clear line between pain point and solution in the agricultural space. Farmers need technology solutions to save water and their crops in an era of drought, climate concerns and growing populations. Getting farmers those solutions effectively represents both a big opportunity for entrepreneurs and investors and a big challenge for the government.
In the Sacramento region—where agriculture has and is a cornerstone of the economy—California ag startups are getting some of the support and attention they need to attract investors and stakeholders and get their solutions into farmers’ hands. In the fall of last year, the Sacramento Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA) launched its newest industry-cluster-focused program, AgStart, to promote innovative sustainable agricultural technology and, importantly, help them bring it to market. The program was funded by a $1 million shared federal grant from the Economic Development Administration between SARTA and University of California at Davis.
Fast-forward to this November and SARTA’s inaugural TechCon event showcasing local innovative companies in the agriculture, manufacturing and medical technology industries, including a pitch event and awards.
Lance Donny, the CEO of OnFarm, took home one of the three “Innovator of the Year” awards. OnFarm, based in Fresno, Calif., offers growers management software. Companies like OnFarm—others include FarmLogs and Granular—offer farmers a kind of master control room for their farms and operations. Through a desktop dashboard and mobile apps, farmers can keep track of farm operations, from scheduling, rainfall, temperature and budgets to planning for planting and purchasing. These companies also use satellite images to allow farmers a variety of options for evaluating and monitoring individual blocks of crops.
The AgStart pitchfest pitted five startups against each other for a prize package that included scholarships to leadership workshops, membership at HackerLab, and legal, marketing and app development services. Contenders were eHarvestHub, Rowy Networks, Asilomar Bio, Agralogics and BioConsortia. The judging panel was John Selep, managing partner of AgTech Innovation Fund; Greg McParland, senior investment manager of DSM Venturing; and Rob Trice, founder of Mixing Bowl Hub & Better Food Ventures.
The judges chose eHarvestHub as the winner. The company, based near Stockton, has developed a free cloud-based traceability solution for small to midsize farmers, helping them to more accurately track their products through the supply chain to increase food safety. The company launched its platform in January 2014—no funding has been publicly disclosed.
Rowy Networks is an IT service company based in Sacramento developing a product for electronic inspections of meat for government agencies.
Asilomar Bio is San Francisco-based company focused on crop-enhancement products and non-toxic herbicides. Last August, Asilomar Bio received a $663,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for its work to improve productivity of small farms in sub-Saharan Africa by developing a cost-effective product for controlling the parasitic plant Striga.
Agralogics is a SaaS farm-management platform based in Walnut Creek and founded in 2013. The application allows farmers to access pixelated geospatial data, offers predictive analytics capabilities and displays personal and public data. According to CrunchBase, the company raised $180,000 in debt financing on Jan. 30, 2014.
BioConsortia, founded in 2014, is a Davis-based company developing highly effective microbial consortia for increasing agricultural yields. BioConsortia raised a $15 million Series B from seed investor Khosla Ventures and new investor Otter Capital.