Curtain comes down on “AgLaunch Bootcamp” with five pitches
Participants stayed true to their ideas, but fine-tuned their stories.
There were no surprises offered, but more insights were gained about each start-up when representatives of five of the six companies that started the “AgLaunch Bootcamp” at the first of the week pitched to a roomful of people late Thursday in downtown Knoxville.
Joe Fox, Chief Executive Manager at Foxadise Farms, described the multi-generational farm that he manages with his two sons – Joseph and Tristan – and its focus on family and sustainability. The family-owned enterprise in Kingsport recently added a focus on commercial beekeeping and has already doubled the number of colonies in just a month. Explaining that his motto is to “start small, but dream big,” Joe Fox said the business could benefit from having several mentors with experience in commercial pollination.
Sreekantha (Sree) Thimmareddy is focused on bringing sustainable and climate-friendly brands and products to retailers. To do so, he founded H2O – a shortened name for the start-up that was announced as Healthy Happy Organic, the letters in its acronym. He’s a former Vice President at Goldman Sachs who puts each proposed brand through a 21-step quality check process using artificial intelligence-driven algorithms. As Thimmareddy prepares the company for a $1.5 million fundraising effort, he said H2O has more than 100 brands listed that represent more than 2,000 different products or SKUs.
Based in Murfreesboro, Aviceen (Avi) Barlatier launched AGSPERIENCE as a way to create a new revenue stream for his farm that raised ostriches. “I found others had the same goal,” and the start-up was born as a platform that helps individuals find unique experiences on operating farms while creating a source of additional revenue for the farmers. “We’re looking for farmers that actually farm, not just give hayrides,” Barlatier said, citing corn mazes around Halloween as just one example.
Wade Austin described FarmGrub, which has a West Knoxville warehouse, as a logistics company serving two markets: farmers on the one hand and those seeking fresh food on the other hand. “It’s a last mile local food distribution network for local farms to local families,” he explained. FarmGrub has 1,600 registered customers, 500 active buyers, 70 local producers, and more than 500 products offered. Austin said the company wants to expand to Atlanta, Charlotte, and Nashville, three cities within a four-hour drive of its home base. The company needs about $250,000 to realize its short-term goals, and nearly half of that funding will be dedicated to inventory management.
Sudharsan (Suds) Dwaraknath came all of the way from New York City for the four-day experience. He’s the Co-Founder of Quorum Bio, a start-up engineering probiotics for crops using synthetic biology. The goal, as he described it, is to “increase the yield and quality of crops.” Quorum Bio is starting with a focus on phosphorus fertilizers where it expects to increase yields by 30 percent while also reducing usage by 50 percent. Dwaraknath, who was introduced to the technology and his Co-Founder during his Post Doc at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, plans to launch a pre-seed fundraising round in September.
One of the investors in the audience was Grady Vanderhoofven of Three Roots Capital, who said he had a potential interest in some of the companies.
The annual bootcamp is part of the “Cultivate Appalachia” program, hosted by Memphis-based AgLaunch and the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center with support from a number of other partners including two other entrepreneur centers – The Biz Foundry in Cookeville and Sync Space in Kingsport.