Cayuga Venture Fund recently closed an investment in a company called Agronomic Technology Corp (ATC). The underlying tech was developed at Cornell (like many of the companies in the CVF portfolio). Completely unrelated to CVF’s investment, Deb Eichten, who is on the staff at Entrepreneurship at Cornell, recently interviewed the founders of ATC. Deb follows many Cornell companies and writes about them for various Cornell publications and media outlets.
So, the following fits into both of my professional worlds (Cornell and CVF). Hope you enjoy it.
Pioneering Better Ag through Big Data
Part 1 of 2 part posting by guest blogger Debra Eichten, Entrepreneurship at Cornell staff, interview with the founders of Agronomic Technology.
Nitrogen feeds half the world’s crops, but 50% of it can be lost to variable soil, crop and weather dynamics. This leads to wasted expense, lower yields, and environmental degradation through greenhouse gas emissions and runoff. For more than a decade Harold van Es, Cornell Professor and Chair of CALS Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, has lead a team of researchers and analytical software developers to create a modelling tool which would help address these issues. The resulting product adapt-N has become the initial offering of Agronomic Technology.
Entrepreneurship at Cornell [EaC] spoke with the founders of Agronomic Technology about the challenges of being pioneers for a new era in agriculture.
[EaC] What advice do you have for students and faculty members with research backgrounds looking at entrepreneurship?
[Professor Harold van Es]: “I am a scientist who has some computational skills in terms of being able to do some coding but we engaged a professional developer to generate a prototype. There are actually four people named on the IP and it was a multi-disciplinary project…This was the first product to come out of our department.”
After working together for about 5 years in a high technology company, Greg Levow (Cornell, Dyson ’04) and Steve Sibulkin were interested in identifying a new market where they could leverage their expertise in cloud technology to “do good for the world” and make money in the process. Greg knew Professor van Es and had continued to follow Harold’s research, development and testing in conjunction with the Cornell Cooperative Extension. After months of travelling and talking with farmers and agronomists, Greg and Steve determined that there could be a viable business opportunity with Adapt-N; they ultimately decided to launch the company in November 2013. By April 2014, supported by a small round of funding with farmers as the initial investors ,they took what the original Cornell team had created and rebuilt it into a cloud-based solution.
[Greg Levow, President & COO, Agronomic Technology Group]: “When we get into the commercial realm, scalability, user interface design, localization and multiple languages, units of measures etc. you end up needing lots of different skills sets… You can have CIS skills but can’t take it very far without the scientists and conversely without the CIS skills you can only take the science so far. .. That blend of the two is where the magic starts to happen.”
[Steve Silbulkin, CEO Agronomic Technology Group]: “An entrepreneur must understand if there is a market opportunity. Is this a thing where you can be successful – can you define and confine the risks? A faculty member doesn’t have the time to think about market opportunities and the time frame required to move through the business model process.”
[Greg Levow, President & COO, Agronomic Technology Group]: “It really takes being on the outside world to learn the skills which are required like understanding the customer.”
[Steve]” I launched my first business in 1999, it was a web-based business and the tools available at that time cost us a few hundred thousand dollars just to get started. Today that same type of utility can be executed at a very small percentage of that cost. If I were a young technologist, I would be very excited about the tools that are available to me. The utilities that are available to start to prototype and to show incremental value — it’s an incredible time to be working with data! ….Agriculture has a large new influx of data – we are creating a voice for the soil.”
Adapt-N is the only nitrogen modeling tool on the market backed by published peer-reviewed land grant research, fully transparent strip trial results across multiple seasons, and with data proving that it can improve grower profit while reducing environmental losses. It was awarded the Ag Professional New Product of the Year in 2012, and was recognized as the top-rated nitrogen management tool in Walmart’s sustainability initiative.
For more information about Adapt-N and Agronomics Technology visit: www. Adapt-n.com