Why 2020 is going to be amazing (and really full-on)


I’ve been offered an amazing opportunity: 8 weeks to travel the world researching a topic that really interests me. 

As I wrote in this article  I’m a strong believer that more agritech entrepreneurship is a force for good.  It has the potential reduce humanity’s environmental impact; ensure affordable, nutritious food is available to everyone; and energise a sector that we often take for granted.  

I want to know how we get even more successful entrepreneurial companies emerging in this space. As a 2020 Nuffield Farming Scholar, I get the opportunity to explore this question.

I often hear investors saying “there’s plenty of money around, we can’t find suitable investments” – but entrepreneurs have a devil of a job to find appropriate investment.  I hear young businesses say “this will boost farmer profitability” – and farmers saying that some of the promised technology just doesn’t deliver.  These kinds of disconnects exist all over the place.  

So my question is, what do we need to do differently to join things up, to remove barriers, to make our startups stronger and more successful?

One in-going hypothesis is that AgTech specific business accelerators help to create a vibrant ecosystem by integrating entrepreneurs, farmers, investors, and others.  Another theory other sectors and geographies can teach us a lot; agriculture might have its own quirks (weather, soil, seasons to name just three) but we don’t have to work this out from first principles.

I’m also keen to explore whether innovations in how we invest in startup companies could expand to agriculture.  Capital invested in agtech startups has increased 6 fold in 6 years.    yet the traditional VC model does not suit all AgTech companies or, indeed, all entrepreneurs.  I haven’t yet heard of innovative funding models that are starting to emerge elsewhere (eg the zebra movement) touching this sector.  Could they & should they?  Or would it be a good thing if farmers got into investing in the ideas with most potential?

I’ll see where the conversations take me, as I set out with these questions:

  1. What ingredients are necessary for a vibrant entrepreneurial AgTech ecosystem?  
  2. How is success of the AgTech entrepreneurial ecosystem measured / assessed? 
  3. What role do business accelerators play in this ecosystem?
  4. Are there things we can learn from other sectors about building a vibrant ecosystem?
  5. What do different geographies do well? What could they do better / differently?
  6. Could different investment models be used in young AgTech companies?
  7. What challenges remain?

My plan is to take in Australia, Ireland, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA, all hotbeds of AgTech investment and innovation.  2020 is going to be a very busy year – not to mention amazingly interesting.

If you have suggestions about people or organisations I should talk to, things I should read or angles I should consider I’d love to hear from you. The more widely I can cast the net the more food for thought I’ll have. 

I look forward to sharing the journey with you!

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