Posts By Nicola Kerslake
As an investor, there are few things more wretched than seeing a good business plan sullied by the phrase “pending regulatory approval”. Though a handful of investors view regulatory reliant deals as a specialty, most see it as the cause of expensive delays and compromises. For instance, regulation was long cited as a reason for the slow scale up of urban agriculture businesses, at least until entrepreneurs began to make progress in untangling the web of zoning codes in cities such as Philadelphia and Chicago over the past few years. As a consequence, business plans that require novel regulatory approval are typically passed over by investors.
One sustainable aquaculture firm, Long Beach, CA based KZO Sea Farms, has turned this issue to its advantage, viewing its recent regulatory approval to farm shellfish in federal waters as a substantial barrier to entry against potential competitors.
When TIAA Cref – which describes itself as “the leading retirement provider for people who work in the academic, research, medical and cultural fields” – announced a $2 billion investment into farmland last month, it barely caused a ripple despite its size. Large investors expanding their exposure to farmland has become commonplace. There’s likely around $3-5 billion worth of US farmland held by investors according to consulting group Highquest Partners and this represents less than 1% of total farmland, yet sustainable agriculture advocates have focused so much attention on trying to deter investors from buying farmland that they have frequently neglected to ask a bigger question: “how sustainable are these investments?”
For many sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs the point at which their ideas become ‘real’ is the one at which they must confront the decision as to whether to patent their technology or process. This decision point frequently comes even before pilot projects are established or target customers identified. Unless you’re fortunate enough to work at a university or research facility that is willing to cover the cost of patenting, it will typically involve spending anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 in legal fees in addition to using team time, at a stage where time and funds are scarce; so the decision is rarely taken lightly.
Biomass-based biofuels – fuels produced from renewable biological resources – are arguably the most successful of sustainable agriculture sectors when it comes to attracting investors. While other sectors were fortunate to break $100 million in investments, 33 biomass deals raked in just under $1.4 billion last year, according to industry journal Biofuels Digest.
To Exploit Market Opportunity and Advance Sustainable Agriculture, Startup Develops Innovative Robotic WeederApril 25, 2012 | Nicola Kerslake
Jorge Heraud, co-founder of Blue River Technology, a Stanford-derived startup that is leveraging concepts and technologies from the fields of robotics, machine learning, precision agriculture and more to advance sustainable agriculture, has deep roots in agriculture technology. Prior to starting the company, he spent 15 years at Trimble Navigation where at different points in his tenure there he headed up engineering for the company’s GPS Products and Precision Agriculture units.
It was while working at Trimble Navigation that Heraud started to evaluate what he wanted to do next. “I loved Trimble and could see myself spending another 15 years there, but then I thought, ‘am I really that guy who spends 30 years at the same company without ever having tried anything else?’”