Over the weekend, Wharf42 entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center, based in Salinas, CA.

The MOU is designed to provide early stage New Zealand AgTech companies with access to the co-working space facility at the Center’s offices in Salinas. This includes access to training and mentorship, monthly seminars, regularly scheduled events and access to WGA members. So why is this important for New Zealand’s early stage (and potententially more established) AgTech sector?

 

Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California and Colorado. Its members and their workers provide over half of the USA’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including nearly half of America’s fresh organic produce. It is a very considerable player in the North American agricultural production space. With almost 1,000 company members, the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center provides a significant market entry point in the US for New Zealand AgTech entrepreneurs.

Two Kiwi AgTech businesses are already based inside the Center. Biolumic and TracMap both have desks and full-time staff in situ. In discussions with Dennis Donohue, Head of the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center, we are exploring opportunities that might create new programs to support these and other New Zealand companies. There are several. One of particular interest is the potential for a ‘Formal Grower Trial Program’. This would match the in-bound technology of a Kiwi AgTech company with a targeted grower / rancher / farmer within the Western Growers family. It would provide access to an immediate ‘on-farm’ environment where the tech could be tested in US conditions. This in-market validation is a critical part of any offshore development strategy. Far better to spend three months testing the tech during a growing season than committing to significant spend and investment without that validation.

During the 2016 and 2017 Silicon Valley AgTech Immersion Programs, I was joined by a large number of New Zealand AgTech entrepreneurs in Salinas. Situated in the heart of Monterey Bay, just south of the Valley, it is home to a comprehensive AgTech ecosystem that includes Western Growers, the Western Growers Innovation & Technology Center, the Thrive AgTech Accelerator and major AgTech investment funds such as SVG Partners. It plays host to the annual Forbes AgTech conference and is recognised as one of North America’s key AgTech innovation hubs.

For New Zealand AgTech companies looking to establish a presence in the US market, we believe the discussions we are having with Dennis and friends represent a major opportunity. Alone, they are not enough. We are continuing to work with our other Valley-based partners, including the Plug and Play Tech Center and Silicon Valley Forum, to ensure that in-bound Kiwi AgTech entrepreneurs can secure the in-market support necessary to establish a successful presence in the US. We hope to build on these relationships during the upcoming Stanford GSB ‘trek’ to New Zealand later in the year.

Over the coming weeks, we will publish updates as to how these discussions are progressing and how New Zealand AgTech companies can engage directly with the Center. It’s a conversation that both parties are keen to accelerate.

Dennis joined the recent Farming2020 event via live video conference from Salinas. He spelt out some of the great benefits of engaging with the Center. You can view that session on YouTube here.