Generating great ideas is part of the New Zealand and Manawatū DNA, with the Glaxo in pharmaceuticals giant, GlaxoSmithKline, starting in Bunnythorpe. The challenge has been to match the great ideas that come out of labs and farm workshops with the market opportunities and means to take them globally.
This is where Sprout comes in. Sprout is a business accelerator and the only one of its kind in New Zealand focused on food and agricultural technology start-ups. Sprout works with young companies with little in the way of revenue, to build products with a global market. Since launching in 2014, Sprout has supported 50 companies directly and hundreds more indirectly.
Being focused on food production and delivery, and being based in Manawatū, Sprout understands the opportunities arising from agriculture. The investors that it works with “get” agricultural technology, the unique nature of young companies, and what is needed to take them nationally and internationally.
Sprout is also one of only four Callaghan Innovation technology incubators and has sufficient resources to complete 40 one million-dollar investments over the next seven years. They also has the backing of Fonterra, agritech venture capital investor Finistere Ventures and crowd-sourcing platform Our Crowd, the latter having investments worth over US$1.5 billion.
As the young companies that Sprout works with are in the ‘seed and start-up-phase,’ it can evaluate and assess opportunities before connecting them to the investment marketplace, or alternatively, by putting them through its own six-month business accelerator as the first commercial step. Young companies applying to the Sprout accelerator generally do so in the fourth quarter, but such is the nature of what Sprout does, its door is open whenever the idea and opportunity is right.
A recent partners’ summit for the eight companies in Sprout’s 2020 accelerator cohort illustrates the diverse companies that it works with. This summit was held as the 2020 cohort approached graduation to provide Sprout partners with a networking and investment opportunity.
The 2020 companies include Iris Data Science, which has developed imagery analysis and artificial intelligence for animal health. Three companies have software solutions including PICMI for recruiting seasonal workers; Foodprint to reduce food waste in eateries; and Land and Water Science for on-farm production optimisation, which puts the environment first. Two have developed plant-based food alternatives, including seafood by Sea Swell and nuts from the Equanut Trading Company. Mirisma Bio-Sensors has electronic sensors mimicking highly-sensitive insect odorant receptors, while Water Watch has water management technology to combat challenges in agriculture and industry.
What’s common to each company in Sprout’s 2020 cohort is the curriculum they follow. This includes connecting with customers, technology and product development, intellectual property, evaluation of market opportunities, as well as governance and investment. While tailored to each company’s needs, it is backed by structured weekly meetings with mentors to discuss progress. Then, every four to five weeks over the six-month accelerator all eight companies are brought together for a two-day “Underground.” This not only reinforces relationships but enables companies to learn from one another. Sprout firmly believes it is vital for entrepreneurs to share their experiences.
Sprout knows that the companies that will succeed, will be those with a tenacity about them and a unique product offering.
As the companies are part of the world’s biggest industry, there is potential for Manawatū to emerge as the Silicon Valley of agricultural and food technology. To realise this potential means retaining, growing, and attracting agricultural and food technology start-ups into the region from all over New Zealand and when the borders reopen, the world. To achieve this, Sprout suggests there is need for specialist equipment, labs and technicians and the right building to house them in – a scientifically-based co-working space.
The one thing Sprout will never change is its location in a region that it is proud to call home. It values the connections with business, farms, councils, academia and especially the Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA). There is a shared determination to improve the built environment and infrastructure to make the region highly attractive to young companies looking for investment and a place to grow. To increase the number of young companies that Sprout can work with, Sprout is investing in both people and resources.
Sprout has earnt its stripes and is positioned with quality national and international partners and a growing list of innovative start-ups. It is on the cusp of a virtuous cycle with the global market deeply interested in New Zealand, Manawatū, and Sprout itself.
For more information about Sprout visit their website.