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Australia’s first national agtech innovation hub launches with a $10 million startup fund

StartupSmart logo StartupSmart 17/09/2016 Dinushi Dias

SproutX general manager Sam Trethewey © Provided by Private Media Operations Pty Ltd. SproutX general manager Sam Trethewey The National Farmers’ Federation and Findex have teamed up to launch Australia’s first national agtech innovation hub with a dedicated $10 million VC fund to support early-stage startups.

SproutX has received a $1 million grant from the Victoria government to grow the idea, along with backing from the likes of Findex and Ruralco, and will also host a co-working space for up to 100 entrepreneurs and will run two accelerator programs.

SproutX general manager Sam Trethewey says Australia’s agricultural sector is set to reach $100 billion by 2030, and provides a wealth of opportunities for startups and entrepreneurs.

“Australia’s agricultural sector is really one of the only pillars that can double in the next 15 to 20 years,” Trethewey tells StartupSmart. 

“We have to be extremely efficient, we don’t have any more land, we don’t have any more water so we have to add more with innovative ideas.”

Trethewey, who is a third generation farmer, says the program will aim to drive positive change for the wider sector.

“It’s bringing farmers back into the conversation,” he says.

“The old technology push model of innovation won’t cut it in agriculture.”

With today’s climate conditions, Trethewey says farmers need strong solutions to optimise efficiency and develop better capabilities like better monitoring of “micro climates”.

“Years ago, we’d have a local weather report, now you have weather stations on farms, even a 1000 acre farm, which is not very big, will have a number of different micro climates,” he says.

“In Australia, we’re going to see a lot of startups develop models in tech to enable farmers to better forecast weather and manage planting.

“It’s really fine-tuning management decision-making"

SproutX programs for early-stage startups

From early next year SproutX will run a pre-accelerator that will take 100 participants through a six-week program incorporating lean startup principles like market validation and financial modelling.

The pre-accelerator can be done remotely and seeks to spark new ideas in food, fibre and agribusiness, Trethewey says.

“We welcome all kinds of people and ideas,” he says.

“[The ideal candidate] would be someone who has a pre-revenue startup idea, who is very driven, who is an entrepreneur and who is very passionate about creating change in Australian agriculture.”

Trethewey says the organisation is currently locking down the “best names in startups” to mentor and lecture the course.

On completion, graduates will get a $1000 cash grant plus access to in-kind services to further their ventures.

“If they hit those milestones and they put the effort in, they’ll have access to the resources after,” he says.

The cream of the crop will then be invited into SproutX’s full accelerator where participants building agtech solutions focusing on IoT, farm management, remote sensors, robotics, biological control, biomaterials and agricultural marketplaces will be supported through its $10 million fund.

Early-stage startups already working on these areas can apply to go straight in, and applications will be open until the end of the year.

Since prime minister Malcolm Turnbull announced SproutX in December last year, Trethewey says they have received over 600 enquiries from entrepreneurs, farmers and investors.

“The doors are opening,” he says.

Trethewey says SproutX will bring to life the critical solutions needed to help farmers optimise functions and build capabilities for a more sustainable future.

“We really need to be driving commercial outcomes into the farm gate,” he says.

“We don’t have time or energy to spend in Australia on nice-to-haves.”

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