Blog Feature

Day 2 at the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy
Creating a Viable Business

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The second day of the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy was dedicated to helping the agripreneurs (agriculture + entrepreneurs) create a viable business through technology validation, market validation and business validation.

The morning started with participants working in groups to perfect their elevator pitch. Alex Camacho, junior specialist at Public Intellectual Property Resource for Agriculture (PIPRA), and Erica Riel-Cardon, a legal intern at PIPRA, are working on a cold box monitoring system for restaurants and small grocers to improve shelf life in walk-in boxes and minimize waste. The system, called SmartBox, will use post-harvest technology data to recommend the best way to organize produce in the cold box for longer shelf life. Camacho said, “The Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy has helped us create a concrete roadmap to bring SmartBox to market.”

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”
—Peter Drucker

Dr. Shrinivasa Upadhyaya, a professor in UC Davis’ Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, is also attending the academy. His goal: to take the Surface Irrigation Monitoring & Alerting System (SIMAS) to market. SIMAS is a wireless irrigation water-alert sensor that texts the farmer when the field has been irrigated. This helps farmers turn off the water at the right time, reducing water usage and saving costs, improving irrigation management and reducing environmental impacts due to excess tail-water discharge. Local farmers, including Deftereos Farms in Visalia, Calif., attest that SIMAS has helped them stop tail-water discharge and provides complete irrigation coverage. Having created a successful product, Dr. Upadhyaya is focusing on the marketing strategy for SIMAS at the academy. SIMAS received a prototype seed fund as part of the Economic Development Agency’s i6 Challenge grant, which funds the UC Davis Sustainable AgTech Innovation Center (SATIC).

Meg Arnold, CEO of SARTA, was the day’s first speaker. SARTA is accelerating the growth and development of the technology sector in the Sacramento region, which, Arnold said, is home to more than 500 technology companies. She also shared information on several resources available in the community for entrepreneurs, including hands-on mentoring and connections to prospective clients as well as funding.

Rodrigo Cifuentes of Arcadia Biosciences spoke on the importance of identifying and evaluating the major uncertainties that surround the technical aspects of a new venture. The technology validation process helped the budding entrepreneurs address issues surrounding scalability, performance, reliability and competitiveness. Some of the commonly identified uncertainties concern product adoption, competitive pricing and distribution channels.

Bob Adams, executive director of SATIC, led a session on addressing market validation by calling the customer. Talking to the customer is key to ensuring that the entrepreneur is addressing the right problem. The calls also help entrepreneurs test their assumptions about their customers, and learn more about the customers’ situation and needs. The participants brainstormed questions to ask a potential customer and were encouraged to make their own calls.

Tracy Shafizadeh, associate director of Lipomics Services and Metabolon, and a UC Davis alumna, presented on how to take a product from lab to market. Shafizadeh walked participants through defining the market, product positioning, pricing strategies, promotion decisions, competitive analysis and market research. She also shared the story of Lipomics and its transformation through mergers and acquisitions, and how keeping customer needs in mind helped them stay on target.

The academy invited Mark Szczerba of Roll Global to discuss business validation. Roll Global is the company behind several well-known brands, including POM Wonderful, Fiji Water and Wonderful Pistachios. Szczerba talked the participants through various types of business models and helped them identify the best model for generating revenues. Many participants worked through a unit sales revenue model; others considered the opportunity in selling the rights to use their patented intellectual property.

Today, I got the sense that academy participants were really able to buckle down and get some key uncertainties on their business model and marketing strategy squared away. In the evening, we participated in a mentoring session, including the chance to pitch our businesses to funders and receive feedback. The feedback encouraged many participants to widen the scope of their business and take on a bigger challenge.

Follow the conversations at the Ag Innovation Entrepreneurship Academy on Twitter: #Agripreneurship

The academy is funded in part by a grant from the Economic Development Administration’s i6 Challenge under the Sacramento Region Clean AgTech Innovation Center Development Project. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendation are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Development Administration or the U.S Department of Commerce .

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