GrowLab’s rocket fuel for AgTech
Petra Andren: There is a wave of AgTech activity in Australia right now
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had only one accelerator program – SproutX – that has focused on AgTech.
Until now that is. Cicada Innovations has partnered with Meat and Livestock Association subsidiary MLA Donor Company (MDC) to launch the GrowLab “super incubator” program.
The GrowLab project will support the accelerated commercialisation of AgTech ideas and innovations in areas ranging from robotics, animal health, remote sensing, food technologies and decision support systems.
Cicada Innovations chief executive Petra Andrén believes that while ideas for AgTech have been around, there has been a lack of understanding about how startups can commercialise their technologies.
“Agtech is something where Australia should be global leaders,” Ms Andren said. “But we haven’t really been very good at commercialising those ideas so far, and that is the reason why we have set up this program, because we want to change that.”
“In the last six month there’s been an absolute wave in AgTech. It is one of those areas where we have leading researching, we have got all the ideas, and we just need the vehicle to commercialise those ideas and nurture them all the way through.”
She also pointed to how based on general feedback from farmers, they have avoided the adoption of new technology mainly because they have felt that startups have always tried to “push technologies down [their] throat”.
Ms Andrén said this indicated startups to date have not had the right connection to farmers. She believes MDC’s involvement in this program will change that, and provide “that link to the end customer”. MDC is a fully-owned subsidiary of Meat and Livestock Australia.
MDC chief executive Dr Christine Pitt said programs like GrowLab were valuable. “We need to encourage and support new entrepreneurs if we want our industry to maintain a competitive edge in the global marketplace.”
Under the free12-week program, six Australian AgTech companies have been selected as part of the first cohort. Participating companies include: FARMpay that provides an online platform for grain trading; FluroSat, which has designed a remote sensing technology and analysis tool for farm management; and EmbediVet, an implantable livestock welfare and management monitor.
“Light has been shining on FinTech for quite a while. It is time to put the light on other industries as well where Australia has a real strength, and AgTech is one of those industries,” Ms Andrén said.
“It’s definitely time for government to support the companies we churn out from this.”