Our 10th Early Stage Innovation Briefing was held in collaboration with KPMG at their Melbourne office. This time the topic revolved around the Agriculture sector.
As a major producer and exporter of agricultural products, it is surprising that the Australian AgTech sector flies under the radar, so to speak, compared to other startup industries. The National Farmers’ Federation identified that Australia’s food exports could grow from a $43b to $100b industry by 2030. Visy Chairman Anthony Pratt presented the challenge at the Global Food Forum last year that $100b could be achieved by 2023. For the industry to achieve this we must address Australia’s agricultural productivity growth rate – at 1.4% we are behind the world average of 1.7%.
Ben van Delden (KPMG Head of Markets & AgTech Sector Leader) and Tim Heasley (Partner & COO of Artesian Venture Partners) brought to light many of the prevailing issues faced by the agriculture industry. With over $2.5b worth of produce lost to weeds, 46% of farmers reporting soil issues and 36% reporting water issues, there is a compelling need for change.
Sustainability was another hot topic of the evening. It is hard to believe that one kilogram of beef requires 15,000L of water to produce; even the humble egg requires 195L. This has spurred the growing popularity of “prosumers” (product/brand advocates) and “plantarians”.
“We are now forced to do a lot more with less” – Tim Heasley
Artesian has taken a particular interest in the AgTech sector. Tim spoke in depth about Artesian’s involvement in the AgTech industry, namely the investment into SproutX, Australia’s first dedicated AgTech accelerator.
It is always exciting to hear about the startups from our portfolio funds. This time we had Kruti Balakrishnan — co-founder of myBeepr, Steve Curry — co-founder & CEO of Capability Builder and Ying Wang — co-founder & CEO of Venuemob.
Kruti pitched for myBeepr, a communication technology aiming to dispel the “legacy systems” in healthcare. The impact of delays and inefficiencies in this industry are costing a staggering $8.3b each year. myBeepr is currently looking to raise their seed investment to continue building and scaling their product.
“Today we have WhatsApp for social, Slack for businesses…and now, we have myBeepr for healthcare” – Kruti Balakrishnan.
Amongst the trend of tech-focused startups, Steve Curry from Capability Builder chooses to focus on people instead. Present performance management systems are highly inefficient, focusing on arbitrary numbers and balance sheets to value people. In his words, Capability Builder is “less about KPIs and metrics and more about…being empowered to have real conversations”.
“We’re not just into technology…we’re into people” – Steve Curry.
Venuemob is one of the more developed startups in Artesian’s portfolio. Ying spoke about how it all started out with a vision to simplify event planning for customers and make the most of the under-utilised space for venues. Their first overseas venture is in Singapore and they are currently working with 85% of Sydney venues that host more than 150 people.
“Venuemob is the Expedia of events” – Ying Wang
We wish all three startups the very best and we’re excited to see what the future holds for them.
The final segment of the night was the panel and Q&A hosted by our managing director Vicky Lay. Our panellists included Andrew Lai — the accelerator director of SproutX, Terry Paule — chairman of Findex, Carlos Gonzalez — co-founder & CTO of Farmapp and Caleb Ha — founder & CEO of Applant.
All of our panellists agreed on the need for innovation in the agricultural industry. Australia is relatively underdeveloped in comparison to other nations, despite the reliance on the industry. Paule highlighted how the AgTech sector has largely “done old things in a new way” in the past and is only now creating “transformational” business ideas.
However, it is not only the responsibility of the startups to generate idea after idea. As Lai emphasises, the “onus is on everyone” to support AgriFood innovations, from the entrepreneurs to investors to consumers. The general reaction to many AgTech startups is “why haven’t we done that before?”, highlighting the need to bring AgTech to the forefront of the startup world.
The challenges faced by AgTech startups span across the whole sector. Gonzalez breaks it down into two core issues – education and connectivity. Firstly, it is difficult to convince a “traditionalist” industry to adopt new products and methods. Secondly, geographic isolation and hence, underdeveloped connectivity is also a challenge for tech-based startups such as Farmapp.
“Education creates better questions…[and] cultivates better futures” – Caleb Ha
Ha takes a very contemporary angle with Applant — a self-watering vertical farm. Continuing the theme of education, he explains that “education creates better questions…[and] cultivates better futures”. He ended on the note that “the future is not a place we are going, but instead a place we are creating”.
We would like to thank all of those involved in creating such a successful night and we look forward to our next briefing which will be held on October 17 in Sydney.