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Agtech Team Project

Background Information

You may not be aware of the world's largest industry. So, let's start with some quick facts. Agriculture employs about 40% of the world's workforce or more than one billion people. It generates over $1.3 trillion dollars worth of food annually. Pasture and cropland occupy around 50 percent of the Earth’s habitable land and provide habitat and food for a multitude of species. And to produce all of our food, agriculture uses 70% of the world's fresh water, leaving 30% for drinking, cooking and industry uses.

There are considerable challenges ahead. The planet is producing a lot more people. And we are not capable of manufacturing more land to grow more food for all those new members joining the human race.

That is what the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations told the world in a Fall 2009 report saying that food production will have to increase 70 percent by 2050 to feed a global population growing from 7 billion today to more than 9 billion people by the middle of the century. This is a productivity challenge on a massive scale and one that can not fail without dire consequences. How do we create more output from a fixed asset? (In farming, it is called yield.) How do we make the land yield more edible crops and seeds for harvesting without making food so expensive it is beyond the means of those who need it?

These are two important, complex and urgent problems! Now, spend time on the Preliminary Research links below to learn about the issue. This research will be important to your understanding of the issues and the success of your project.

Preliminary Research Package

The following links will give you a comprehensive overview of the state of agriculture and food and water issues.

A Few Other Resources To Explore

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Where Will We Find Enough Food?
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Package of 18 graphics provides a clear overview of the problem and its causes.
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The 2016 FAO report on the state of food and agriculture in the world.
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The Economist has compiled an extensive review of the future of agriculture.
Learn More

Here Come the Entrepreneurs!

A massive global market...fraught with a wide range of issues and needs…in need of urgent solutions! That is what entrepreneurs spend lifetimes search for — a gap in the market that offers the next big opportunity.

And that is who many business leaders, investors and governments are looking to for answers. In fact, from 2012-2016, $821 million in global equity funding was invested in 271 agtech startup companies. Data from market research from CBInsights says that the first quarter of 2017, has already been the strongest quarter of funding with more than $105M invested across 16 deals.

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"And on that farm he had a mobile app, a drone, a robotic harverster, and a moisture sensor."

This interest of bright young entrepreneurial minds and leading investors has been cause for considerable optimism and the growing interest to do something profitable and important for the world. Go to this link from Agtech News to see some of the start up activity in agtech and to get an idea of markets and competition.

As mentioned earlier, venture capital firms are also getting involved. Some recent investments are listed here. Others include leading Silicon Valley investment firms like:

Khosla Ventures
Kleiner Perkins
Google Ventures
Finistere Ventures

One of the chief reasons investors are interested is that, despite the size and importance of agriculture, it is one of the least digitized of all industries and that creates opportunity for considerable disruption from tech-based startups.

Solutions are coming from re-thinking traditional approaches and from applying new technologies like smartphones and apps, drones, cloud computing, Internet of Things sensors and other technologies that are part of our daily lives but that have not yet been applied to agriculture. Startups are either replacing a part of the existing process, enabling workers in different areas of the agriculture chain to be more efficient, or creating entirely new ways of working that did not exist before.

Areas of Focus

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Click on some of the links below, to see a range of startup companies that have been funded in the last few years.

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Farm Management Software
Software "dashboards" that pull together all the relevant information farmers need to run their operations. This makes it easier to spot inefficiencies in their systems. Examples include:
Farm Logs
AgSquared (based in Washington, DC)
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These are hardware solutions built using low-cost Internet of Things sensors that provide streams of data about the performance of crops, farm machinery and even the location and breeding status of livestock. A few examples are:
Amber Agriculture
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Farm Robots
Some of these automate the more labor intensive processes in the fields like picking plants, while others are creating new ways to monitor and determine the "health" of a farm. Some sites to examine:
Blue River Technology
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Next Generation Farms
These companies leverage new technology to create entirely new farms or greenhouses. This is usually a combination of LED lights, aquaponics, robotics, vertical farming, and nutrient blends. These companies should help you find some ideas:
Bowery Farming
Freight Farms
Bright Farms
Green Sense Farms
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Smart Irrigation and Water
The well is a technology that is older than wheel! Time for some fresh thinking. Applying a more intelligent approach to water management by deploying precision irrigation systems and computer algorithms and modeling is already beginning to bring benefits to farmers. Here are a few representative companies working in water and agriculture:

Next Steps for this Project

So, now it is your turn. The Business 1.0 class project is designed to help you think like a team of startup business people committed to building something great and to changing the world — just a little. You are being asked to develop a startup business in a fictional competition for a $250,000 investment by the Agritory Renewal Fund. Their purpose is to "Invest in the Technologies That Will Save the World."

We won't kid you. This project is intended to stretch you. Doing things to help save the world involves serious and mature leaders with purpose and vision who also have the determination to identify problems and solve them with creative ideas.

After you've looked at the research sources above, you may have an idea. Or, you may need to do more online research or research in the AU Library Databases.

You are looking for gaps in the market place or areas for improvement. Who is your target customer? Farmers? Farm equipment manufacturers? Consumers? Retailers? Other technology companies?

What is that specific group trying to achieve that it can't achieve — or can't achieve as easily as they would like? Maybe it has to do with urban farming systems or vertical farming. Maybe it involves the use of hydroponics or addressing agricultural pollution or precision farming.

If you know the target market and the problem they need to solve, your business then becomes developing a product to solve it — and making money in the process. One way to help you kickstart some ideas is to try random combinations of the two columns below to see if a match — whether obvious or not — triggers some possibilities.

Farm Management SoftwareConsumers
Precision AgricultureFarm Equipment Manufacturers
Agricultural Robotics and DronesFood Retailers and Wholesalers
Internet of Things Sensors for AgricultureFood Transportation and Storage Providers
Plant Analysis and DataUrban Food Desserts
Smart IrrigationLarge Scale Farmers
Livestock ManagementSmall Farmers
Next Generation FarmsSeed and Fertilizer Producers

Try to find your own ideas, then talk with your TA, the Kogod Librarian or your Professor to discuss what you've come up with. You might just find something to help feed the world!