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July 10, 2023 | Shannon Smith

Agtech start-ups convene in Knoxville for “Cultivate Appalachia” program

Six food and farm tech companies were chosen to participate, specializing in fields like farm-to-table produce, software for family farms to monetize experiences, and getting fresh foods into public schools.

In a modern, white-walled event space in the heart of downtown Knoxville, a handful of farmers are spending the next three days revolutionizing the agriculture industry.

They’re all together as part of the Cultivate Appalachia program, hosted by Memphis-based AgLaunch and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center with support from a number of other partners.

The four-day intensive program is focused on start-up companies and entrepreneurs working in the food and farm innovation space. Participants are given a deeper understanding of agriculture and coached on business topics ranging from customer discovery and funding to intellectual property and branding.

Six food and farm tech companies were chosen to participate, specializing in fields like farm-to-table produce, software for family farms to monetize experiences, and getting fresh foods into public schools.

One thing they all have in common is their passion to make their communities better through the agriculture industry that some have always known, and others have come to love.

“This seems to be how it works at AgLaunch, there’s a pretty common ‘why,’” said Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch. “At this bootcamp we’ve got everything from ideas on farms to businesses that are ready to scale all together. The culture we’re building starts with being humble in what we do.”

After a round of passionate introductions, Nelson held an open discussion with the group about what AgLaunch does, who they partner with, and what he hopes to accomplish with the participating start-ups this week.

The founders shared their hopes, frustrations, and goals for making an impact with their ideas. The participating start-ups are:

Pete Nelson, President and Executive Director of AgLaunch, chats with the participating start-up founders at the 2023 Cultivate Appalachia Bootcamp.
  • AGSPERIENCE, based in Murfreesboro, is a marketplace for “agricultural experiences.” Owner Aviceen Barlatier started the company after an illness left his wife in a coma, eventually leading to hearing loss. Looking for a way to work from home to help care for his young kids, and already someone with a small farm who raises ostriches, Barlatier learned more about coding to create a website to help monetize his and other family farms.
  • FarmGrub, a Knoxville-based company, offers an online marketplace that delivers fresh, affordable locally sourced groceries to local families – different from the competition because it’s the only local solution with any day delivery in as little as 2 hours. Founders Omar Chaudhry, Hank Rosenfelder, and Wade Austin want more people to have direct access to fresh produce and hope to use technology to grow more good food with fewer resources.
  • Foxadise Farms, a family-owned commercial beekeeping company located in Kingsport, strives to provide the best quality, locally produced raw honey and cottage goods to consumers as well as offer commercial pollination services. Joe Fox and his sons Joseph Fox and Tristan Fox said they’re glad to be able to work on this passion project as a family.
  • Healthy Happy Organic scores consumer products on sustainability and their carbon footprint. Founder Sreekantha Thimmareddy said his passion for this work comes from growing up in India, where farming was a main source of income for his family, and seeing how land is becoming more depleted of nutrients.
  • Planting Roots Farm, located in Brilliant, AL, has developed a new technology to aid in the harvest of specialty crops. But one of the true passions of Owner Conya Rawls is providing fresh produce to 23 rural schools in the area and to low-income seniors who otherwise wouldn’t get this type of farm-to-table nutrition.
  • Quorum is a New York City-based company that bioengineers crop microbiomes to enhance nutrient acquisition, stress tolerance, and carbon sequestration for every crop on every farm, worldwide. Founder Sudharsan Dwaraknath said his time in rural Tanzania during grad school fueled his drive to start this company. There he learned that climate change is already decimating crop yields worldwide, and is working to provide farmers with eco-friendly tools to defend their livelihoods, feed the planet, and join the race for carbon drawdown.

Over the next few days, these founders will learn pitch training, licensing, customer discovery, branding, financing, and more with local and regional experts in both the entrepreneurial and agriculture spaces.

If you’d like to see these companies pitch at a public event at 5 p.m. on Thursday, July 13, you can save your spot here. It will be held in the Techstars space at 465 South Gay Street, just across Union Avenue from the Embassy Suites Hotel.

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