The Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC) and AgLaunch are collaborating to host East Tennessee’s first ever accelerator solely focused on agricultural start-ups. The program, named AgWorks, was described in this recent teknovation.biz article. It features five companies that are accelerating their ideas at Sizzle TechStart.
Between now and the upcoming “AgWorks Demo Day” set for 11:30 a.m. August 26, we will be spotlighting each of the teams. Today’s focus is on Urban Valley Farms.
Tell us about yourself and, if applicable, your other team members . . . names(s), background(s), experience, etc. Carson Bone is Co-Founder and Biosystems Engineer of Urban Valley Farms (UFV). Since his youth, Bone says he has always been fascinated with finding value in items that society deems invaluable. That characteristic was the reason he found his passion in the renewable energy industry. Acquiring his degree in Biosystems Engineering from the University of Tennessee (UT) was where he developed a great understanding of designing biological systems that are synonymous with environmental and societal sustainability. After school, he was hired by Proton Power, a renewable energy start-up which is where he met John Borden, UVF’s other Co-Founder. John is a graduate of UT’s Haslam College of Business. Before Proton Power, he worked in the food industry. He established the first Bruster’s Ice Cream franchise in Tennessee which garnered a top five spot in annual sales nationally year in, year out. Afterwards, he went to work for Sysco gaining valuable experience in food marketing and distribution. John and Carson worked together for three and a half years on a team developing multimillion dollar projects that were economical, scalable and repeatable. Over those years, they watched that start-up grow from those initial employees to a staff of over one-hundred.
Describe the focus of your start-up and the problem you are trying to address. The United Nations (UN) has projected that by 2050 the world population will be 9.7 billion people. This growth will coincide with an economic shift from established wealthy nations to developing countries that will double the current food demand. These burgeoning nations will place higher demands on luxury goods such as meat. These processes are energy intensive and ecologically unsustainable. The world needs a food solution that utilizes fewer vital resources (i.e., water, land, and crops), produces less greenhouse gases, and is healthier. Our solution is to create one of the first organically raised cricket farms in the U.S. There is a gap forming within the U.S. edible insect industry that has created a unique opportunity for us to enter the market. Most companies that have emerged within the industry have been companies integrating crickets into retail products and have seen immediate success. Their rapid growth has exhausted their supply sources of crickets to such an extent that they have had to supplement by farming themselves. By entering the market as organic farmers, we have instant demand for our crickets because there is a limited supply of high quality crickets from companies specifically raised to feed humans.
How did the idea to start the company originate? What was the catalyst? I (Carson) read extensively about how our world can/will transition into the future in industries like agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, and artificial intelligence. Since I graduated with an engineering degree in Agriculture (Biosystems) Engineering, I knew my first mark on the world would need to be something related to my education. Coincide that with the publication of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization report in 2013 which details the integral part insects will aid in scaling the world’s food supply. I knew this industry would be a great place to start because there is room to innovate and potentially change our food supply for the better.
What was the impetus for applying to participate in AgWorks? After participating in KEC’s “What’s the Big Idea,” we understood the impact that a collected group of people, such as the KEC, could do for a young company. We knew our company’s chances of surviving and excelling would be much greater with the help of others in the entrepreneurial community.
What do you expect to accomplish before the August “Demo Day”? We hope to have successfully initiated the construction of our first farm. In order to do this, we are in the process of completing our first pre-seed round of funding.