Founders of up and coming agtech companies from Canada and the United Kingdom are gathered in Regina this week to learn how to take their businesses to the next level.
The companies are the first cohort to take part in the Agtech Accelerator, which is operated by Conexus Credit Union’s tech incubator, Cultivator. The accelerator received 70 applications, of which 16 were accepted.
During their time in Regina, founders will meet with investors, farmers and agriculture retailers. They’ll also get mentorship on how to grow their companies.
The companies will also be getting some financial support. Emmertech, Conexus’ venture capital fund focused on agtech, is investing a minimum of $100,000 into each of the businesses that were selected to take part in the first cohort.
“We really want to help them raise as much capital as possible, make as much of an impact on their industry as possible and really drive successful businesses to support the industry,” said Jordan McFarlen, business incubation manager at Cultivator.
Many of the companies taking part in the accelerator are still relatively small in terms of staff count, but they have big ambitions to tackle problems facing the agriculture sector.
TechBrew Robotics, based out of Salmon Arm, B.C., is focused on solving the mushroom growing industry’s problem with labour shortages with a robot capable of picking 20 mushrooms per minute. The robot runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and over that time can do the work of four human workers.
“The two biggest technical challenges are actually defining the right mushroom to pick and then picking it without damaging it because they’re very delicate,” said Mike Boudreau, the president and CEO of TechBrew.
Through a partnership with Innovate UK, five early-stage tech companies from the United Kingdom are also participating in the first cohort. One of them was Raft Solutions from Ripon, England. The company has developed lab-based technologies around semen quality assessment for livestock.
Harriet Scott, operations director with Raft, said they saw a lot of similarities between the U.K. and Canada around sustainable livestock production. The company already has connections in Canada with the Universities of Guelph and Saskatchewan, so joining the Agtech Accelerator was a natural fit.
“It’s allowed us to see firsthand the market opportunities and speak to like-minded peers as well as the expert mentors. So it’s been really, really great so far,” said Scott.
Some of the companies taking part already have strong connections to Saskatchewan. Ukko Agro specializes in plug and play predictive analytics in agriculture. The company is based in Toronto, but three of its biggest clients are in Saskatchewan.
Ketan Kaushish, Ukko’s CEO, explained that the company collects data on a farm to run predictive models so farmers decide what kind of fertilizers and pesticides they want to apply in the coming weeks. Kaushish said he thought the accelerator’s organizers were wise with how they chose companies that complement each other, and also praised the lineup of speakers.
“It’s not every day that you get to be in the same room with the CEO of Viterra and learn from his experience,” said Kaushish.
The accelerator is also seen as an opportunity for companies looking to expand into North American markets. That’s the case for Smartbell, which is based out of Cambridge, England. The company has created a smart tag that can be attached to livestock that monitors the animal’s activity and temperature. Given the labour crunch in livestock production, the idea is to help producers focus on animals that need the most attention.
Veena Adityan, Smartbell’s founder and CEO, said she sees Canada as a “fantastic market,” given the amount of livestock production that goes on here.
“The Agtech Accelerator gave us an opportunity to really understand the market better, come here in person, have these real conversations with potential partners to get the product on the ground and see how it works for this market,” said Adityan.
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