The workshop at Bonny Doon hosted by Howard Chao, Camp One Ventures, DuPont Pioneer, and John Deere on December 3, featured the pitches of several promising startups, and convened some very impressive folks from legacy ag companies generally from the Midwestern United States (note the sponsors). The gathering was small, but strong. Mixing Bowl community teams like eHarvest Hub, Mavrx, and Summer Technologies were on hand and delivered solid presentations, and were joined by other startups providing various solutions up and down the value chain of the food marketplace. For example, Cookbrite, out of Seattle, is a market analytics company that is set to disrupt the food survey industry–a multi-billion dollar opportunity. Farmobile, from Kansas, is aiming to create an Electronic Farm Record (EFR) marketplace starting with the aggregation of farm data through the use of its turnkey tractor-mounted device. gThrive, of Menlo Park, has developed a proprietary in-field sensor service providing real time data to the grower through a mobile app. Hydrobio’s SaaS platform, out of Texas, is a satellite-image data analytics play that seeks to reduce water usage and maximize yields. Skydio has created an easy-to-use drone automation platform for use in a number of applications.
The willingness of senior-level management from name-brand Ag players to fly in for one day to the beautiful, and gratefully, rain-soaked, Santa Cruz mountains from the Midwest for the opportunity to interface with Silicon Valley types points to two non-cliche phenomena that are being reinforced with each company I meet, and each conference/panel/meetup that I attend or participate in: 1) players in the greater ag innovation eco-system want to connect with Silicon Valley–primarily for capital, but also to build out teams and acquire talent, and to tap into the innovative culture that pervades here–at least in theory; and 2) Silicon Valley is increasingly, albeit novicely, responding with increasing enthusiasm.
The workshop’s panels addressed, in broad strokes, issues such as data privacy concerns on the farm; the need for solutions/systems integration in a noisy landscape of balkanized early-stage technologies; and the capacity of society to meet rising global food demand given the realities of resource constraints, the appetite for and inherent capacity of biotechnology, and the ability to access sufficient investment capital necessary to drive innovation. Although there were more questions posed than answers provided, the open dialogue and exchange of Midwest incumbents with Silicon Valley disrupters at this event (which resulted in several investment discussions with the presenting companies) is another step in fostering a real and impactful food and ag tech eco-system.