SparkLabs Group, one of the top accelerator groups in Asia, announced it is partnering with the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries to launch SparkLabs Cultiv8, a $10 million agtech accelerator to be headquartered in Orange, Australia. The accelerator will be going live in March 2018.
The eight-month program will operate out of the Orange Agricultural Institute – a site in New South Wales that the NSW Department of Primary Industries is reinventing into an innovation hub to be called Global AgTech Ecosystem, or GATE.
The accelerator will host up to between eight and 12 startups, which will all be granted access to research laboratory space and farms located around Orange, to conduct prototype trials. Each of the startups also will have the potential to receive an investment of up to A$100,000 (US$80,000).
One aspect that sets SparkLabs Cultiv8 apart is the level of connectivity between the farms being used. Each of 25 surrounding farms will be connected to a LoRAWAN network – or a communication network that carries data from multiple devices to “gateways” linked to the internet.
“Having our accelerator based in Orange, next to real farms connected to a LoRAWAN network, means our companies will be able to test and get feedback on their ideas instantly, whether they apply to cotton, horticulture or livestock,” said Frank Meehan, SparkLabs co-founder, told ARF.
The ability in Australia to more easily forge public-private partnerships involving governmental bodies was another draw to the project.
“The U.S. has seen plenty of agtech investment but it’s been independent of government, because it’s hard to get it together with the private sector in their system,” said Meehan.
“Here we’ve got a chance to involve government and potentially solve different sorts of problems in new ways.”
Given that the agtech sector remains in a nascent stage, Cultiv8 will be seeking out agtech startups and technologies that are positioned to have the greatest impact and scale up quickly.
“The ag-tech sector is at a similar stage to where AI was in 2009, it is early and just starting to grow,” Jonathon Quigley, partner with Cultiv8, told Tech Crunch. “Then Siri was bought by Apple and it exploded. There is a tremendous amount of talent in the agtech sector that is looking to start companies, join startups and invest in them. We will be primarily looking for founders that have the ability to bring that talent into their companies and disrupt the agricultural industry.”
SparkLabs’ mentoring system is also more open and relaxed, reports ARF, with any of SparkLab’s previous 80 accelerator graduates -which include Netflix founder Mark Randolph and Mark Sowerby, the founder of Blue Sky Private Equity – free to contact and offer mentoring to any current startup in the program.
Cultiv8 will add to SparkLabs’ existing accelerators in South Korea, Taiwan, China, and Hong Kong, and marks the establishment of its first accelerator outside of Asia. The geography choice is a practical one as Australia’s ag sector is already a key exporter to many Asian markets, and has the potential to nearly double the value of its exports to Asia to $1.7 trillion by 2050, according to ANZ Business.
And Then There Were Two
Cultiv8 joins SproutX – a $10 million agtech fund and accelerator program announced in September 2016 – in partnership between Australia’s National Farmers’ Federation and financial advisory firm Findex.
The initiative, which is headed by former wool and beef farmer Sam Threthewey, is financially backed by the government of Victoria, which committed $1 million to the venture, along with additional backers, Ruralco, and Artesian Venture Partners.
Following the launch of its pre-accelerator program, Sprout X launched its national accelerator and its $10 million SproutX Venture Capital Fund in March 2017.
The new 2017 program will accept 10 startups – each of which will receive $40,000 in capital in exchange for an 8 percent equity stake, office space for six months at SproutX’s new hub in Melbourne, mentoring from industry leaders, and access to a national distribution network through Ruralco and Findex – corporate partners of SproutX.
Following completion of the accelerator program, SproutX will then have additional funds to make follow-on investments in worthy technologies demonstrating market potential.
The announced launch of SproutX came only days after StartupAUS, Australia’s top start-up body released Powering Growth: Realizing the Potential of AgTech for Australia, a report commissioned by StartupAUS, KPMG, Commonwealth Bank, and the Queensland government that determines that agtech is a critical factor if Australia’s agricultural sector will reach its goal of becoming a $100 billion industry by 2030. However, the report goes on to state that there is a dire lack of investment, national strategy, and domestic opportunity.
“We have an extremely valuable opportunity here to develop technologies that make a real difference to the economy’s bottom line, while also helping rural Australia realise [sic] the economic benefits of the digital technology revolution,” said Alex McCauley, chief executive with StartupAUS.