Insights from evokeAG 2019

February 21, 2019

This week I was fortunate enough to head to Melbourne along with 1200+ others for the first (of what is likely going to be many) evokeAG event. It was a whirlwind of activity, with food trucks and coffee carts, edible insects and braindates, international delegations and world-class panels, virtual reality demonstrations, and of course startups.

The content was laid out across three streams: food, farm, and future. I loved facilitating the Alternative Farming and Faster, Smarter Farms panels, and I heard multiple people raving about Oded Shoseyov’s keynote on bio-inspired nanocomposite materials (check it out, it’s crazy cool)

But content was only a very small portion of evokeAG. What I think made the event truly exceptional were the attendees, and the conversations I had with people from all over the world and all along the supply chain. So, instead of summarized takeaways from the program, I’ll share a few insights from the networking.

“Where are the producers?”

This is a common question (usually said like a complaint) at agtech conferences. I heard it a few times this week. But I disagree. I talked to cattle producers from the Northern Territory, mixed farmers from WA, broadacre croppers from all over NSW, chicken farmers, rice farmers, wool growers, and many more. I’m not saying that growers were the majority- they weren’t. Nor am I saying that the content was tailored to them- it wasn’t.

But farmers did attend. And more importantly, the ones I talked to got a lot out of it. They learned about how VCs evaluate startups, browsed new products (some good, some great, and some not even close to ready), and even found investment opportunities. At the same time, the agtech community- myself included- got a lot out of connecting with them. It’s not every day that you get to speak with farmers from different industries who have self-selected for interest in ag innovation. Hearing new perspectives and starting to build a common language around challenges and opportunities in agrifood tech is absolutely vital, and evokeAG certainly encouraged this.

“Do your homework”

In their keynotes, both Arama Kukutai from Finistere Ventures and Michael Dean from AgFunder explained that many of the agtech sub-sectors (e.g., farm management software, irrigation IoT, etc.) are incredibly crowded. Investors I spoke with throughout the event echoed this sentiment, saying how frustrating it is to see copycat companies.

The implication for startups here is to do your homework! Know what other companies exist globally in your space, and be able to explain clearly and simply how you’re different.

“How can I get a job in….”

We often talk about the dire need to attract new talent to agriculture, as well as equip the next generation with new skill sets. So I was encouraged by the many young people I spoke with at evokeAG who are passionate, talented, and hungry for jobs.

What I appreciated most was how many of them approached me confidently and with really good questions, like: what do I need to do to get a job at an agtech company, what is working in VC like, and how can I build my personal brand in the ag industry even if I don’t know what job I want right now.

These young people are ambitious, curious, and hungry for opportunities. We need to encourage more of this, as well as build pathways for young people to develop their skills and gain exposure to what working in ag or agtech is really like. evokeAG has started to do this by putting Future Young Leaders front and center on the main stage. These leaders are confident and determined, and they have a vision for what ag should look like. We need to embrace this momentum and continue our efforts to attract and retain talent throughout the year.

“Sooo many announcements”

As a high profile, well-attended and well-publicized event, evokeAG was sure to feature many exciting announcements. It did not disappoint. This is exciting, and I am thrilled about the momentum for and energy surrounding agrifood tech innovation in Australia and New Zealand, and the diverse range of players bringing forward new initiatives.

The challenge with so many announcements is that it can be difficult to differentiate between initiatives and raises concerns as to whether we are really solving problems of fragmentation or just increasing them. These are all valid questions, but they aren’t ones that can be answered at evokeAG.

My belief is that these initiatives and interventions are like startups: they succeed or fail based on execution, not press or ideas. So despite the amazing time I had this week, in addition to continuing to celebrate and share the launch of so many great opportunities, I’m excited to get home, put my head down, and get back to work on delivering results. As they say, the proof is in the pudding.

See you at evokeAG 2020.

I had the pleasure of serving on the evokeAG steering and pitch tent committees for AgriFutures Australia, and hopefully played at least a small part in bringing this event to life.