Australian agtech startups will receive help to create connections, build skills and find funding to commercialise their ideas under a new national program launched on Friday.
SproutX, an initiative of accountancy and financial advisory firm Findex and the National Farmers’ Federation, was launched on Friday.
It includes Australia’s first agtech “pre-accelerator” to unearth and seed startup ideas in agriculture, and a $10 million “accelerator” fund that will invest in and back the best ideas in agtech.
SproutX has been backed by $1 million in initial funding from the Victorian Government and further backing from an array of industry giants including Findex and Ruralco.
A SproutX statement said the national program brings together government, industry and academia.
It will equip agtech startups with the skills, connections and funding they need to commercialise their ideas and establish Australia as a global leader in agtech, it said.
“Australia’s biggest natural advantage lies in agriculture, not fintech, and we need to invest to ensure that we lead the way in developing and commercialising innovations in agtech,” said Sam Trethewey, General Manager of SproutX.
“The innovation boom has had a strong focus on fintech, but movements like that are not where Australia’s natural competitive advantage lies.
”We’re still in our infancy, but it’s important to get behind the agtech industry now and stimulate its growth. We need to connect innovators, investors and the agri-community to help bring ideas to fruition, and this pre-accelerator lays the groundwork for that.”
SproutX comprises of two key initiatives: a pre-accelerator and a full accelerator:
The SproutX agtech pre-accelerator will help to collate startup ideas that can go on to commercialisation. It will accept one hundred applicants from across the country, to nurture and commercialise the best new ideas in food, fibre and agribusiness. Successful applicants will be equipped with basic business skills and lean startup principles, as well as access to mentors and a strong support network. At the end of the eight-week program, the graduates will receive a cash grant and in-kind services to help them pursue their venture. Those that show promise will also be invited to join the full accelerator in 2017.
The SproutX agtech accelerator and venture capital fund will be launched in 2017, backed by a $10 million venture capital fund that will invest in startups across a range of agtech areas of interest including Internet of Things, remote sensors, farm management, robotics, biological control, biomaterials and agricultural marketplaces.
The fund is currently accepting investors and will be eligible to become recognised as an Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnership (ESVCLP) by the federal government.
SproutX has also received backing from the Victorian Government to help open the Victorian chapter of the pre-accelerator. Minister of Agriculture and Regional Development, the Hon Jaala Pulford MP, announced $1 million in funding to support and grow Australian agtech at the launch of the pre-accelerator at Marcus Oldham College in Geelong on Friday.
Agriculture and related activities comprise around 12 per cent of Australia’s GDP, more than double the US, and is expected to generate $1.2 trillion over the next 15 years. However, much of the impact in agtech at the moment is being driven by advancements in Israel and the US, where there has been greater focus on investment and commercialisation.
Victorian Minister for Agriculture, the Hon Jaala Pulford said the decision to partner with SproutX and launch its Victorian chapter simply makes sense.
“Victoria is well and truly at the heart and soul of agriculture in Australia and we punch well above our weight due to the ingenuity and adaptability of our primary producers. Our state accounts for more than 27 per cent of the nation’s total food and fibre exports and we employ more than 190,000 people across the supply chain.
“The Andrews Labor Government is passionate to support young agricultural entrepreneurs turn an idea – into a reality. Agriculture has a proud history in Victoria and is set for a bright future.”
Applications for the national pre-accelerator program are open.
Mr Trethewey said those with an entrepreneurial streak, and particularly those with backgrounds in science and engineering, are encouraged to sign up regardless of whether they have a startup idea or not.