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The multimillion-dollar fund aiming to 'turbocharge' local agritech sector

Newshub logo Newshub 17/04/2021 James Fyfe
a person holding a toothbrush: Related video: Last year the Government launched an ambitious plan to increase primary sector exports by $44 billion over the next decade. © Video - Newshub; Image - Getty Related video: Last year the Government launched an ambitious plan to increase primary sector exports by $44 billion over the next decade.

A new multimillion dollar investment into New Zealand's agritech sector is aiming to help Kiwi businesses transition from the R&D stage to commercialisation. 

The $40 million fund was launched by Silicon Valley-based Finistere Ventures in partnership with New Zealand Growth Capital Partners.

Finistere Ventures co-founder Arama Kukutai says although New Zealand competes with other countries around the world in agritech research and development, we often fall short when it comes to commercialising that technology.

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The US-based Kiwi hopes the new fund will change that.

He hopes Finistere's global connections can help build a pipeline between New Zealand and the rest of the world, allowing emerging New Zealand tech companies to tap into and benefit from foreign investment.

"I'm pretty passionate about seeing the best of our technologies make it out into the world," Kukutai told Newshub.

Leading the team in New Zealand is Dean Tilyard, co-founder and director of agritech business accelerator Sprout. 

He says the fund will focus on developing the country's potential in technology around animal health and genetics, plant science, and the environment. Although New Zealand already has a good reputation for agricultural research, the challenge is to develop the sector to a point where the country is also home to a number of startups that are addressing global markets and have the potential to grow in size. 

"We have the ingredients now - the big bits of the jigsaw are in place," he says, adding that having a pipeline to global investors is the next logical step in fostering such businesses.

Based at The Factory, a leading R&D and company incubation cluster in Palmerston North, Tilyard hopes the international connections will not only help share New Zealand's technology with the world, but will also attract much-needed foreign capital as well as overseas talent. It will also keep the local sector in the loop with what's going on in other countries.

Ultimately, he hopes, it will also lead to "an infusion of ideas, technology, capital coming the other way and looking to base itself in New Zealand".

Tilyard says by being more in tune with what is happening in the sector overseas, New Zealand can be more responsive to ever-changing global trends.

"We can evolve that tech to the opportunities we're seeing in the market, getting in front of the curve. We can also adjust the course of some technology towards the precise opportunities that we see."

The investment comes as the Government is putting more focus on growing agritech and upping its own investment in the sector.

Kukutai says though agriculture in general has yet to be turned upside down by technology like some other sectors have been, with global investment exploding in recent years it's only a matter of time.

"The rapid tech cycles that we've seen disrupt and destroy and recreate other industries hasn't happened with the same speed in food and agriculture, it's been a much more analogue set of industries," he says.

"That's changing." 

One example of how traditional farming might be upended by technology is through the development of alternative proteins - some of which make it possible to produce meat or dairy products without slaughtering or milking any animals.

But while such game-changing technology will no doubt continue to be a focus of the agritech world, Kukutai says the sector can also play an important role in improving existing systems.

"If we take a long view - 10 years - what we're doing in New Zealand is saying on one hand, let's see if we can actually figure out what technology investments might be there to help improve, reinforce, refine the competitiveness of old-school ag, and then [on the other hand] continue to turbocharge the things New Zealand's often been good at: new innovation.

"It's both ends of the spectrum we need to be looking at."

Both Kukutai and Tilyard agree New Zealand already has the talent to punch above its weight on the international scene. Now, they are hoping a boost of venture capital may give that talent the helping hand needed to make our agritech sector truly world-class.

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