The Australian iteration of Asia-based accelerator and investment company SparkLabs Group, known as SparkLabs Cultiv8, has selected its first cohort of ag-tech start-ups to participate in a seven-month program at the new, DPI-backed ag-tech funding ecosystem as identified by SparkLabs.
The accelerator, a collaboration between SparkLabs and NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI), is part of the Global Ag-Tech Ecosystem (GATE), a new ag-tech hub based in high-tech HQ at Orange Agricultural Institute, in the state’s Central West.
Accelerator program participants will have access to the wealth of data and expertise contained within NSW DPI’s Innovation and Technology Research platforms. Thanks to DPI’s state-wide network of experimental plots and research stations, will have access to more than 13,000 hectares of farmland across four climatic zones on which to trial their products and systems.
They’ll also get industry-leading mentors, connections with corporate entities including Minter Ellison and KPMG Australia, and valuable international exposure via the vast SparkLabs Accelerator network and GAN.
Post-course, participants will have opportunities to access up to A$100,000 ($80,000) from SparkLabs’ investor partners in return for an agreed stake in their start-up ventures.
SparkLabs Cultiv8 co-founder Jonathan Quigley notes that ag and food tech have been on investors’ radars in recent years, and we can expect more of the same.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes less costly, Quigley told TechCrunch, more start-ups will be in the position to buy and deploy analytic platforms – hardware and software – to help farmers better manage resources, cut waste and boost yields.
“The ag-tech sector is ... just starting to grow,” Quigley said. “There is a tremendous amount of talent in the sector that’s looking to start companies, join start-ups and invest in them.”
What kind of start-ups are SparkLabs Cultiv8 cultivating?
For its initial Accelerator Program cohort, Cultiv8 was looking for companies with IP that could, potentially, have a large impact on ag-tech and could be scaled up fast if things took off, and for “founders that have the ability to ... disrupt the agricultural industry”.
The GATE’s inaugural Accelerator Program attracted worthy applicants from across Australia and the world, including several companies in Europe and the US keen to avoid the Northern Hemisphere winter, hone their ag-tech products in Australian conditions, and get greater access to the burgeoning Asian market for ag-tech products and services.
“One of our objectives was to bridge a gap in support for Australian ag-tech businesses,” SparkLabs Cultiv8 co-founder Guy Hudson told AgFunder recently.
“In the first year we have had a great response from offshore that raised the bar for all applicants. We saw some brilliant Australian start-ups, some of whom we passed on to the DPI for incubation, and are excited about the prospects for next year’s cohort,” he said.
The Accelerator Program’s 2018 cohort
The nine start-ups accepted into the GATE’s first Accelerator Program include early-to-mid-stage ag-tech companies from the US, UK, Norway and Singapore as well as three Australian companies. They are:
Aquabyte – Norway
Applying computer vision and machine-learning algorithms to aquaculture, Aquabyte technology is designed in Silicon Valley and made in Norway. The technology, which deploys an iris camera and Oracle software to enable fish-farm operators to count sea lice automatically and measure biomass accurately in real time, is focused primarily on Norwegian salmon farming operations.
BioCarbon is employing data-enabled robotics systems to deliver planting services via automated drone to farmers and restoration project managers, allowing them to scale up restoration works (potentially, to "billions of trees per year" and reduce costs by making a slow, manual process into an automated solution".
Evaptainers – US
Evaptainers has developed the core technology to manufacture low-cost refrigerators that run on water, requiring no electricity to operate, with huge potential application in countries in which off-grid consumers grapple with food spoilage.
Farmbot – Australia
A cinch to install and use, Farmbot’s high-impact sensors, along with satellite- and 3G-connected monitors, measure and analyse water use and consumption in dams, stock tanks, and irrigation channels.
Hydroleap – Singapore
This cutting-edge water-treatment tech purifies wastewaster from the food and beverage, tannery, oil and gas, construction, mining and semiconductor industries, using electricity instead of the usual chemical treatments. The new technology works best on high suspended solids, COD and turbid wastewater.
James Tyler – Australia
Tyler’s ‘Aussie farm to Chinese table’ platform aims to deliver fresh Australian produce to 90-plus cities across China.
ripe.io – US
A transparent digital food supply chain, US company ripe.io is using blockchain and IoT technology data on food quality to develop ‘the blockchain of food’: a ‘food quality’ network that maps the food journey from farm to fork.
Secure Impact – Australia
Using etherium blockchain technology, Aussie company Secure Impact aims to solve the succession problem in Australian farms, then expand the technology to cover similar markets.
Smart Ag – US
SmartAg is producing diagnostic technology for assessing pollinators’ health that could be a boon to commercial pollination businesses and corporate farms, helping them to control bee loss.