Posts By Nicola Kerslake
Last weekend’s sustainable agriculture themed TEDx Manhattan was entitled “Changing the Way We Eat”. A TEDx is an independent version of the incredibly popular TED Talks each of which is a day long series of brief presentations on “ideas worth spreading” around a specific topic. The New York version is one of the more popular ones, with the 200 person strong live audience supplemented by a further 3,000 people at viewing parties around the country.
The subject of the day’s talks ranged from White House pastry chef Bill Yosses on “the hedonistic culture of healthy eating” to a brief excerpt from the upcoming movie, “Food Chains”, which looks at the conditions endured by farm laborers.
Reno, NV Startup Sees Opportunity in High Tech, Inexpensive Irrigation Control Systems for Small FarmersJanuary 31, 2013 | Nicola Kerslake
When Reno, NV based sustainable agriculture enthusiast Eric Jennings noticed one morning that, yet again, his irrigation system had watered his sidewalk more than his backyard farm, he decided that it was time to put his engineering skills to good use. “Water is expensive and scarce in this area, and wasting it just bugged me so much that I started tinkering around in the garage” Jennings noted. Most of the commercially available water irrigation control systems were either prohibitively expensive or excessively complex; “there was just nothing around designed for the small farmer” he concluded.
Around six months’ later, he’d created Pinoccio; a small, cheap microcontroller with an embedded WiFi unit that could be combined with a soil moisture sensor to control irrigation remotely.
When the Silicon Valley startup accelerator 500 Startups spawned farm production software company Farmeron late last year, sustainable agriculture officially joined the accelerator boom. Accelerators typically take an equity stake in your startup in return for which you get a little bit of funding and, more importantly, to participate in an intensive three to six month mentoring program at the end of which you should ideally have a fundable business. They’re often confused with the now-less-hip incubators, which generally offer physical office space in addition to mentoring over a prolonged period.
As entrepreneurs, one of our early challenges is finding funding faster than we’re burning through our savings; it’s a choke point that’s so common that it’s referred to as “the Valley of Death”. This realization often comes at the worst possible time – when you’re equally busy trying to figure out packaging, and which regulations you need to meet, and then you realize that you’re going to need more cash to make it all happen. “I need to find the path that leads to funding fastest,” concluded one sustainable agriculture entrepreneur.
Two obvious paths to funding for young startups are through Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants, especially the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, and via Kickstarter, the crowdfunded donation site.
Over its three year life span, Kickstarter, a crowdfunded donation site, has become quite the boon for sustainable agriculture entrepreneurs, raising $9.1 million in funding for 846 food projects. Indeed, many of the startups profiled here at Seedstock, such as Freight Farms, Cloud 9 Rooftop Farm, and Bitponics are Kickstarter graduates.
Until recently, there wasn’t a great deal of data to tell us what works when putting together a Kickstarter campaign. The company has been criticized for not publishing the success rates of projects, and a number of blogs made valiant efforts to calculate these in the absence of official numbers. In June, Kickstarter began tracking statistics, and this, along with the increasing maturity of the site, has led to a plethora of advice to would-be fundraisers.