Spring 13, Week 10: AgGrow

We’ve got just 2 weeks to go in the program! This week, hear from Zach Warder-Gabaldon from AgGrow.

The global population will reach nine billion people by 2040.  Industrial agriculture depletes soil for future use, introduces synthetic chemicals into food and water supplies, and with 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions, is the single largest contributor to climate change.

How do we supply healthy food to the people of tomorrow without destroying the planet of today?

We at AgGrow believe the answer lies within the sphere of sustainable agriculture.

We are the earliest stage company in the Hub Ventures 2013 cohort and, because of it, have tried to absorb as many lessons as possible.  None, however, have resonated as profoundly as the very first one – the importance of customer development.  Our mentors, advisors, and fellow companies have all stressed this theme, usually in the veins of “I wish we had done more” or “never stop doing this”.  So, we took this collective wisdom to heart.  For the past two months, the AgGrow team has dedicated itself to meeting farmers and discovering their challenges.  Many interesting insights have come from our conversations, but one in particular has led to our current value hypothesis:

Farmers who earn greater profits through sales of sustainably-grown produce will likely influence conventional growers to switch to sustainable methods.

There has been some validation of this hypothesis with the 15-20% year-over-year growth the organic food industry has experienced.  Despite this, current supply has not kept up with increasing demand.  But at only 4% of the total market, we think the industry still needs a turbocharged kick in the pants.  That’s where we come in.  With our design and data analytics backgrounds, we are creating a tool which farmers, from operators of small, sustainable organizations to managers of large, conventional operations, may use to maximize their profits.  Organic farmers will be able to use this tool to determine which crops will likely provide the greatest economic return given inputs such as climate, geography, and sales channels.  Similarly, conventional farmers can use the same tool to discover the economic benefits of transitioning to sustainable or organic practices.

The entire HV team has been instrumental in the discovery process.  We have benefitted as much from our fellow entrepreneurs as we have from our advisors, dinner speakers, and workshop leaders.  One thought leader who has influenced us most recently and profoundly is Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation.  A recognized “design for impact” guru, Kevin reminded us during his talk and deep dive session at Angel Squared to boil down our impact metrics to just one key metric.  Beyond the clarity of metrics, his advice has guided us to a refined mission statement, a simpler prototype, and a better understanding of the relationship between social impact return and economic return.