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July 07, 2020 | Tom Ballard

“AgLaunch Bootcamp” kicks-off first-ever virtual program with participants from four states

The latest edition of the “AgLaunch Bootcamp,” an annual East Tennessee staple, kicked-off Tuesday with eight teams participating. And, since the yearly program is being delivered virtually for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the teams come from Tennessee as well as three other states – Minnesota, North Carolina and Ohio.

Organized by Memphis-based AgLaunch with support from three members of the Launch Tennessee Network, the bootcamp will hold virtual sessions twice-a-week (Tuesdays and Thursdays) from 2 to 5 p.m. between now and August 6. The Launch Tennessee Network supporters are The Biz Foundry (Cookeville), Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC), and Sync Space (Kingsport).

At yesterday’s kick-off event, AgLaunch’s Pete Nelson said, “We’re really about trying to help you. Our goal is to get the right resources around you.” Those resources are designed to help this year’s participants, whose ideas vary from very early to new spinouts from an established company, be successful.

“We’re in a changing time . . . a real exciting time to be in the innovation space,” Nelson added.  Describing the high failure rate of companies that should be successful, he suggested three key reasons.

“Much of the advice being given is the current state of agriculture, not where we see it going,” Nelson said. Others factors in the failure include a misalignment between corporate strategies and farmer interests along with venture capital investments being focused on unicorns, not real farmer needs.

After an overview by Nelson of the ag sector and the role of AgLaunch, Jeff Brown of The Biz Foundry led an explanation of the “Business Model Canvas” with participation from KEC’s Jim Biggs.

The participating companies are:

  • AgriKnect: This is the most geographically-distant participant, based in Minneapolis and represented by Nick Hofer, who described it as a dual-sided digital platform that allows farmers and other ag businesses to connect and hire workers for their operations.
  • Benanova Incorporated, represented by Anka Veleva, a Research Professor at North Carolina State University, developed novel proprietary technology for efficient delivery of active ingredients in agriculture that is environmentally friendly and effective. The native of Bulgaria said the company is pre-revenue.
  • BurgerFit: This Cookeville-based start-up, represented by Alane Boyd, has developed a burger that blends ground meat and vegetables to help families eat healthier starting from the age of two-years old.
  • SCAREcrow Farm Tech @ Old Hughes Farm: The Northeast Tennessee company, led by Michelle Fore-Siglin, has created a series of algorithms to help reduce mundane and time-consuming farm tasks. The algorithms can be fine-tuned to the specific farm location.
  • S&J Nanochemicals: This start-up has ties to the University of Tennessee Chattanooga and is represented by Soubantika Palchoudhury, an Assistant Professor. The product is a sustainable nanoparticle fertilizer with a seed pre-soaking nutrient delivery strategy that increases growth and vitality in a variety of plant species.
  • Soil1 LLC: Founded by Ben Hofecker and located in Springfield, OH, the company has developed technologies that enable inexpensive soil ecology testing that can take place in a farmer’s field. In response to a question during yesterday’s session, he said the focus right now is testing for active carbon.
  • Sustainable Aquatics Incorporated: This Jefferson County-based start-up, founded by John Carberry, farms salmon in Tennessee with reduced costs, high quality feeds, higher yields, and lower cost logistics.
  • Veggie Mines: A startup that has created a new concept in vegetable farming by utilizing tech solutions to address old-age farming problems.

Here’s a screen shot from yesterday’s kick-off.

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