The 4th Agricultural Revolution: Going digital is taking off

Posted on August 09, 2019

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It’s an exciting time to be in Ag-tech!  At an unprecedented pace, new industry is being formed around innovative digital technology solutions and existing biotechnology, and food firms are adopting new digital tools. We are also seeing exceptional development of novel food and feed products, founded on innovation, health and environmental sustainability.

In 2018 ag-tech was a leader in global investment activity in number of deals— higher than 2017 and 2016 numbers. Within the ag-tech category, biotechnology is still achieving the highest investment dollars; however, the burgeoning ‘farm management software / sensing / Internet of Things (IoT)’ segment is outpacing all other categories.

With the advent of the ‘fourth agricultural revolution’ (the digital revolution) taking shape, Ag-West Bio included digital opportunities in our 2018-2023 Strategic Plan. This year we began to execute this strategy, while striving to stay nimble enough to adapt to new opportunities as they arise.

In 2018-2019, we worked with more than 50 Saskatchewan companies, many of them start-ups on the cutting edge of the revolution. We assist in many ways, often working closely to help them overcome commercialization hurdles and seize specific opportunities. We offer services centered on three themes: provision of information and resources; building networks and advisory capacity; and advancing public funding and private investment readiness.

We devised and hosted eight industry workshops to provide information on what resources are available to help with commercialization. We highlighted new opportunities with public organizations like Sustainable Development Technology Canada, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada, and Western Economic Diversification Canada, and we provided tailored input to help companies obtain these and other resources. We also showcased four innovative start-up companies, inviting potential collaborators and partners to learn about their new technologies, which we consider to be at the cutting edge of digital, IoT and food innovation.

Our collaboration continues with the Raj Manek Mentorship program, as well as other local partners, to link companies with mentors. We also proactively seek international mentoring and acceleration opportunities to help start-ups build networks and advisory boards and meet potential investors. We produced more than 20 new partner linkages for Saskatchewan companies. Also this past year we increased our partnership with key global ag-tech accelerators—prestigious vehicles with a tremendous waiting list of applicants. We are pleased to say we helped Saskatchewan companies gain meetings, recognition and success with these vehicles.

In addition, we targeted key international conferences and created programs to help companies attend. We developed a strong presence at these conferences, setting up meetings and workshops to encourage new partnerships. Ag-West Bio, along with our partners, helped 10 Saskatchewan companies participate in global events last year.

Investment readiness is a key activity that complements all our services. Ag-West Bio provides advice and pathfinding to help companies build their business plans and address any gaps, preparing them to obtain financial capital and market partnerships. Where appropriate, we invest directly through Ag-West Bio’s Technology Commercialization Fund. Since Ag-West’s inception in 1989 it has made or managed 70 investments in 61 different companies, totaling over $13.3 million dollars. These investments have been long-term in nature, devised to help promising technology companies meet key milestones. When leveraged (on average 4X with additional capital sources) these have resulted in impressive outcomes, including job creation, revenue and other successes.

This past year Ag-West Bio advanced $115 thousand investment capital to two companies; investment term sheets totaling $550 thousand to two companies; and substantial investment restructuring leadership to two others. This combined activity helped these companies leverage more than $4 million in additional private and public capital, accelerating them toward their commercialization goals, while putting Saskatchewan on the global map as a growing ag-tech innovation leader. 

by Brad Bly
Director of Commercialization