Cornell Tech Company: Agronomic Technology Corp (Part 2), Guest Post by Deb Eichten

Here is Part 2 of the post on Agronomic Technology Corp, continuing the interview that Deb Eichten did with the ATC management team.  Thanks!

From Licensing the Technology to Striving for Market Dominance:

Part 2 of 2 part posting by guest blogger Debra Eichten, Entrepreneurship at Cornell staff, interview with the founders of Agronomic Technology.

[EaC}: How did adapt-N transition from Cornell research to commercialization?  What was the process for licensing of the technology?

[Steve Silbulkin, CEO Agronomic Technology Group ]:  “From a very early stage we very confident that there was alignment and that we would land on an arrangement.”

[Harold van Es, Cornell Professor  and Chair of CALS Department of Crop and Soil Sciences]CCTEC worked primarily with Greg and Steve, but CCTEC brought me in and asked, “What do you want to get out of this?”  …One of the key aspects was that this is good for the farmers and good for the environment.  There was a sense that this came out of the Cornell Cooperative Extension system, there was a public benefit to the technology which was well accommodated.”

[Steve]: “There are a number of factors which were important during our discussions like keeping the science and commercialization coordinated but separate; that we don’t bias the science.  That was important to all the parties.”

[Greg Levow, President & COO, Agronomic Technology Group]:  “We were negotiating licensing before we had developed the full business plan which was just a necessity based on the timing.  You know, startups move so quickly, reiterate continually and you need a very structured licensing but you also need a very flexible company and that made the process very challenging because in our particular case this is a completely new thing.”

EaC:  Analysis of big data leading to more sustainable solutions is clearly the direction the industry is moving. How has having DuPont and Monsanto entering the market with competing products affected your business strategy?

[Steve]  “When Greg and I entered into this process, those competitors were not there.  There was an idea they would be there but it was not manifested.  Their presence doesn’t hurt us.  When you think about it, the presence of competitors helps create a category for our user. We are having a conversation about computational methods for nutrient recommendations.”

[EaC] What impact has the presence of competitors entering the market had on your ability to attract investors?

[Harold] “We clearly pioneered the technology. Once DuPont & Monsanto came into the market, this is no longer perceived as a little cooperative extension project or small startup business, this is a juggernaut. It has offered a lot of credibility to the technology.”

[Steve]  “They certainly created more exposure for us. It is also very helpful to our fund-raising process. Prior to competitors making announcements, we spent a lot of time convincing investors that adapt-N was a valid solution to real problems… [The competitors] have also opened up a discussion about pricing models.”

[Greg]: “We are staunchly tied to the concept that these types of solutions should be independent of any ties to the sales of seeds, fertilizers, or insurance. And that we will be protective of the individual farmers’ data…[Having big name competitors] suggests that this is an idea for which the time has come.  We have achieved escape velocity. There is no future without this technology.”

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