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A selection of thoughts, observations and writings, taken from our day-to-day work and activities.

What does an agtech investor look for?

Late March saw more than 1,350 agritech leaders from around the world come to San Francisco for the World AgriTech Innovation Summit.

Launched just six years ago, the summit’s become an influential get-together for those involved in the fast-moving agritech sector. It’s created a forum to share best practice, case studies and exciting new ideas.

This year’s theme was ‘Turning Disruptive Technology into Business Strategy through Partnership and Collaboration’. It examined the business models and partnerships required to turn new ideas into large-scale, sustainable solutions for growing and distributing food in a transformed global food system.

A hallmark of the agtech industry is the generation of innovations outside the large organisations. Seed, plant protection and supply companies have dominated the global agricultural industry for the last 40 years. They remain important innovators in their respective sectors. But they’re ‘outsourcing’ their R&D function by identifying, investing in and buying start-ups whose ideas strike a chord.

Bayer is one such company practising this form of “open innovation”. So it was interesting to hear an interview with Dr Bob Reiter, head of R&D for Bayer Crop Science. He opened up on agtech investment, R&D trends and what kind of innovation Bayer is sniffing out.

Since the acquisition of Monsanto, the combined company will spend more than $2.5bn on ag research. This sets a new record for R&D spend in agriculture. But despite the 7,000 scientists that this sum funds, the company recognises that innovation can happen elsewhere. Initiatives such as Grants4Targets, Leaps by Bayer, and Bayer Growth Ventures range from providing resources and guidance, through to making investments to support the development of ‘ideas so big that they could change the world’.

At Agro Mavens, we particularly liked Dr Reiter’s ‘top tips’ for agtech. We believe they’re spot-on for anyone involved in the sector, irrespective of whether they’re looking to catch the attention of their investment funds!

  • Any new ag product or service must deliver added value for the farmer, either directly or indirectly. Period.
  • Data insights will transform agriculture and lay the groundwork for every other technology advance. But we still have issues to work through. We must help farmers get more comfortable with data sharing. We must demonstrate that data from millions of acres will help them make better decisions than only their own data.
  • We must continue to collectively advocate around the world for food and ag regulation that is science-based and adapts to the fast pace of change.
  • Bigger companies like Bayer need the fresh ideas and entrepreneurial spirit coming out of start-ups. But those start-ups need bigger partners to overcome the “access to farmer” barrier.
AdrianBell

AdrianBell