Photos courtesy of Ag Ventures Alliance
As investors flock to the ag-tech space, Spencer Stensrude, VP of Investment, is leading the way for Ag Ventures Alliance. Ahead of his talk at Cultivate, we caught up with him to discuss the mission of this co-op of farmer investors.
Can you tell us a little bit about the services provided by Ag Ventures Alliance?
Ag Ventures Alliance is a cooperative of farmers that invest in startups with the aim of increasing farm profitability. The organization itself makes direct investments in startups, and we have an angel group that makes investments independently. Outside of investing, we do a few educational and social events throughout the year for our members to get together and learn about a new topic. We are also in the process of trying to formalize a farmer network that will participate in product development with startups.
There are several ag-tech investment firms out there. What separates you from the rest?
There are three things that really make us unique in the ag-tech investor landscape. 1) Our mission is to increase farm profitability so every investment we make needs to impact that mission. 2) We have a large network of hundreds of farmers that are actively interested in innovation. 3) We include farmers in the investment decision process, which actually provides some early customer validation for startups.
What is the short and long term vision of Ag Ventures Alliance?
Improve farm profitability. It is short and sweet, but that is what is really important to us. Long term, we would like to see the positive impact on farm profitability spill over into our rural economies, too.
How many companies do you invest in per year?
We typically invest in two to five new startups each year. We do some follow-on investing as companies grow, too.
How are you implementing some of the ideas you’re learning from companies into your farming in North Iowa?
I don’t think we covered this earlier, but I do farm with my dad in North Iowa. Seeing new ideas and concepts every day through Ag Ventures Alliance has spilled over onto my farming operation. This summer, I had one of our portfolio companies, Rantizo, spread cover crop seed with their drones in a few drowned-out patches that were too wet to replant. After seeing how well the Rantizo drones worked for this application, we brought them back out again this fall to fly seed into the standing crop on the entire field. This particular field isn’t the easiest for an airplane to spread due to the rolling terrain and nearby windmills, so I am really excited we were able to get the cover crop seeded with Rantizo’s drones.
In your opinion, what work being done right now by a company is the most exciting?
I am really excited about the regenerative ag movement. The hard thing is that part of regenerative ag is reducing inputs, so it makes investing in the space more difficult. Nonetheless, the potential for farmers to dramatically improve soil health, crop quality and earn premium pricing while reducing synthetic inputs is pretty exciting when your mission is increasing farm profitability.
Some Of The Companies They’ve Worked With
- Smart Ag Aftermarket autonomous tractor kit
- SwineTech Software and sensors to reduce piglet crushing
- Rantizo Drone applications with proprietary spraying technology
- Environmental Tillage Systems Manufacturer of the Soilwarrior strip-till machine
- Holganix Microbial product for row crops
- AgriSync Unique customer service platform for ag service providers
- ClearFlame EnginesDeveloping a compression-ignition “diesel-style” engine that burns ethanol as its primary fuel