Wharf42 2021 Preview: Building global agritech networks from behind closed borders

Wharf42 2021 Preview: Building global agritech networks from behind closed borders

Welcome to Wharf42’s first news release of 2021.

The global COVID pandemic is accelerating and New Zealand’s borders remain tightly closed. Wharf42 understands the impact that closed borders are creating for agritech businesses in New Zealand, across the Tasman in Australia and in the wider Asia Pacific Rim.

Over the past 4 months, we have expanded our offshore reach. As of today, we are;

Over the Christmas & New Year festive break, we have worked to connect these dots. By developing a strong regional Asia Pacific Rim cluster – New Zealand, Australia & Singapore, we are looking at opening up new channels for creating significant opportunities for increased research and commercialisation collaboration.

The question some folk ask is why. It takes us back to our core values.

The global COVID pandemic and closed borders are doing nothing to assist address some of the world’s greatest long-term challenges:

  • Feeding 9.6 billion people with nutritious and affordable food by 2050
  • Addressing the real and ongoing impact of climate change
  • Identifying new ways to farm more productively and more sustainably
  • Researching for new forms of alternative protein

We believe that by building scale and creating the opportunity for greater cross-border collaboration, we can collectively begin to tackle some of these major challenges. In Q1 2021, we will be seeking to expand our global network beyond the Asia Pacific Rim. Discussions are already underway with potential partners in North America and Europe. As the opportunity for creating international travel bubbles from New Zealand recede, building global networks from behind closed borders is today our #1 goal.

Whatever the new year might bring, Jacqui and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a safe and prosperous 2021.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing development of the Wharf42 Insights Programme and other initiatives currently being kept under wraps, please sign up for our free Monthly Newsletter.

Wishing you a Happy Xmas & New Year holiday

Wishing you a Happy Xmas & New Year holiday

As we get ready to close down for the Christmas & New Year holidays, Jacqui and I want to wish everyone a happy and safe festive season from the awesome Bay of Plenty.

2020 has been a challenging year for many, but the opportunities that we can see building in 2021 provide real purpose to our mantra. As we pivot towards developing a global platform;

  • We have a Vision
  • We intend to Execute on it
  • It will create Impact

We close down tomorrow, Wednesday 23 December, and will be back at our desks on Monday 11 January.

Enjoy the break, take time to share with family and friends and above all, stay safe.

Introducing the Agrifood Tech Singapore Association

Introducing the Agrifood Tech Singapore Association

I’m delighted to have been asked to join the Establishment Working Group of the nascent Agrifood Tech Singapore Association.

The Agritech New Zealand playbook, developed over the past 3 – 4 years, is now being leveraged by agritech ecosystems across the globe. For countries such as New Zealand and Australia where agricultural production means that a significant amount of produce is exported, tech investment is often focused on increasing production in more sustainable ways.

In Singapore, the inverse is true. Today, Singapore produces only 10% of its domestic food needs. The other 90% is imported. Last year, the Singapore government announced the 30:30 initiative; a strategy designed to increase domestic food production to 30% by 2030. Then COVID hit. When you have such a reliance on food imports, particularly when pandemics close borders, that makes you very vulnerable. This has generated a new sense of urgency across the country’s agrifood sector.

The main purpose of the Association is to accelerate Singapore’s agrifood tech ecosystem to build a coherent community to support the advance of agritech in the country. Both New Zealand and Australian agritech companies have a vital role to play.

The focus is on developing agrifood tech that maps Singapore’s specific needs. Given the lack of land, that means focusing on sectors such as vertical farming, urban farming and more intensive aquaculture farming. In a New Zealand context, I’m thinking of the likes of Biolumic, BlueLab, Autogrow, Robotics Plus. That’s just for starters. On the other side of the Tasman and wearing my Australian Agritech Association advisory hat, I can think of several Australian agritech companies that also fit the bill.

The Agrifood Tech Singapore Association envisages a tripartite approach. This involves Australia, New Zealand and Singapore working together to support Singapore’s ability to accelerate nutritious food production.

On the ground, the Singapore investment community is accelerating its focus on the need and the opportunity. On 20 November, Temasek International, the Singapore government’s main investment arm, announced that it was setting up a new vehicle to help accelerate and manage agricultural and food investments as part of a multi-billion dollar push into the market. The platform will have two main missions — to help agri-food portfolio companies build the operational capabilities needed to get products off the drawing board and into the market, and to help them build the manufacturing and production scale “to the next level.”

I have been speaking to other players in this space over the past few weeks. The need and the urgency is real. The development of the Agrifood Tech Singapore Association cannot come soon enough. It’s great to be part of the opportunity.

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: Building the relationship with Western Growers

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: Building the relationship with Western Growers

On Friday, I was delighted to meet up with Nicholas (Nick) Snyder from the United States Embassy in New Zealand. Nick has the US trade portfolio responsibility between both countries. The meeting provided a great opportunity to talk about accelerating potential bilateral collaboration in the agritech space.

We spoke at some length about Agritech New Zealand’s Partnership Agreement with Western Growers  In recent weeks, I’ve been speaking regularly to Dennis Donohue, Director of the Western Growers Technology and Innovation Center, and more recently Western Growers’s new Director of Innovation, Walt Duflock. There has been a lot to talk about.

For many Western Growers members, labor remains an ongoing challenge; both in terms of supply and cost. Additionally, COVID-19 has created massive disruption to the food service sector. With US citizens spending more on dining out than groceries, closed restaurants, cafes & bars have decimated many growers long standing supply chains. I know of several ‘family owned’ enterprises who are counting the cost in terms of hundreds of million of dollars.

With last week’s news that Walmart were emptying shelves across the States with a particular brand of romaine produced in Salinas Valley – because of concerns around E.coli, it just doesn’t get better. For many growers, 2020 has basically sucked.

Enter New Zealand. I spoke about some of the significant research and development taking place in New Zealand’s agritech robotics and automation space. Our meeting took place at the University of Waikato campus in Tauranga. The Bay of Plenty is home to such luminaries as Robotics Plus, BlueLab, GPS-it, Cucumber, Eurofins, PlantTech, Trimax, Radfords, Zespri and Plant & Food Research. How can the product and IP generated by such companies and research organisations support grower organisations and their members across the Pacific?

I also spoke about New Zealand’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) – particularly its High Impact Project – the Robotics & Automation Academy. It now has a new placeholder name: The Horticulture Robotics Catalyst. By chance, Jacqui and I are meeting up with the team from Callaghan Innovation who are leading the initiative, this afternoon.

A large number of folk collaborating within the Catalyst visited the Salinas region during last year’s Forbes Live conference. The challenges being faced by Western Growers members are therefore well understood. I personally believe that New Zealand has the capacity to deliver some of the solutions these growers need. That’s incredibly important. Western Grower members produce over 50% of all US fresh produce. That’s vegetables, fruit, nuts and organics. As a commercial pathway for New Zealand agritech, it doesn’t get much bigger.

Friday’s meeting created an important opportunity to accelerate the conversation. As the global pandemic creates new focus on nations’ food supply and food security, New Zealand’s agritech sector is well placed to take a global leadership role.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing development of the Wharf42 Insights Programme and other initiatives currently being kept under wraps, please sign up for our free Monthly Newsletter.

Congratulations RiverWatch! Winners of the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge New Zealand Startup Stream Category

Congratulations RiverWatch! Winners of the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge New Zealand Startup Stream Category

As sponsors of the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge New Zealand Startup Steam Category, Jacqui and I were delighted to join James Muir, co-founder of RiverWatch, at Zespri HQ on Friday as the winners of the Bridge Hub 2020 Water Challenge were announced.

If you missed the virtual Finale which featured Vic Crone, CEO of Callaghan Innovation and David Thodey, Chair of CSIRO, you can view the presentation on YouTube here.

RiverWatch is the next generation of water quality monitoring, providing an easier, smarter way to gather water data.  An innovative, compact device, using the latest in remote sensing technology and IoT networks, delivering real time data straight to your phone or desktop. And with knowledge comes power, to make targeted changes to improve New Zealand’s declining fresh water quality.

James and his team were well deserved winners of the New Zealand startup stream category. An alumni of the Sprout Accelerator programme, they are addressing one of the most important environmental issues facing New Zealand and the world right now.

The 2020 Bridge Hub Water Challenge was the first major trans-Tasman agritech initiative. Over 120 entries were submitted from Australia and New Zealand in both startup and research categories. A further 20+ entries were submitted by startups and researchers based in Israel, a key ecosystem partner of the Bridge Hub. This interest reflects the absolute importance of water; it’s availability, management & quality for our agrifood sector. It is our most significant natural resource.

Working with our co-sponsors and partners in New Zealand, Zespri and Callaghan Innovation, has been a blast. Together, we have not only highlighted a major challenge that New Zealand and the world’s agrifood industry collectively face, we have also created the opportunity for a collaborative road map to address this challenge with partners across the Tasman.

So what’s next? Wharf42 intends to work with the Bridge Hub to build a collaborative network of researchers and startups working in this space. Both organisations recognise that the Challenge was far more than simply a one-off event. It provided the opportunity to build a community of like-minded organisations and individuals seeking to address one of the world’s most significant existential issues.

My final word goes to Bridge Hub and the team there; Craig, Di, Ethy & Grant. In what were very trying times, where closed borders within Australia added a new dimension to the word ‘trying’, the team never lost faith or focus on the Challenge. It’s been great working with the Bridge Hub and wearing Wharf42’s trans-Tasman lens, it provides a great platform for joint future initiatives.

Going forward, for all of us, the real work and the real opportunity begins now.