American investors are familiar with the “Start-Up Nation,” thanks in part to the best-selling book of the same name. But while those investors concentrate on Internet, mobile, security, flash memory, and other IT-oriented innovations, they may not know about Israel’s advances in agricultural technology. Israel has developed technologies that make farmland more productive, saving money and time for farmers, and enabling the growing of produce on land that, at first glance, does not seem suitable for farming. In a world where there are more mouths to feed daily, these technologies and innovations could be very important as nations scramble to feed their burgeoning populations.
Educating investors and others about Israeli agritech is one reason Misgav-based The Trendlines Group is sponsoring a first-ever agritech road show, according to Steve Rhodes, Chairman and CEO of The Trendlines Group. “Our goal is to introduce our promising agritech companies to potential investors and strategic partners in the US,” Rhodes said. “It is also about increasing awareness among US investors and corporations about the fantastic opportunities in Israel in the agritech space.”
Five early-stage Israeli start-ups will be participating in the event, among them companies that use solar energy to power sensors that keep track of livestock (SolChip), a start-up that uses natural herbs to more effectively prevent insect infestation of plants (EdenShield), and a company with a better, cheaper way to milk cows (MiRobot). The companies address a gamut of issues farmers are interested in solving, using nontraditional methods that are the result of years of research and work by their Israeli inventors, said Rhodes.
Agritech is likely to be the “next big thing,” according to Rurik Halaby, CEO of New York-based AgriCapital, one of the largest mergers and acquisition firms working in the agritech space. In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Halaby said that Israel’s primary contribution to the world is the knowledge that comes with teasing food out of the arid land that characterizes much of Israel’s farm territory. “Gram for gram, Israel is as productive as any nation, and considering the limitations it must work within, it is impressive and amazing.”
Despite the challenging economic climate in the US, Rhodes believes agritech start-ups have a good opportunity to connect with investors, and that the best way to make matches is to provide opportunities for investors and innovators to meet directly. The roadshow will be holding nearly 10 events in six cities across the US — New York, Detroit, Denver, St. Louis, Memphis, and Boulder, Colorado. “In dealing with any investors, but especially investors overseas, it is critical to establish the personal connection that can only be accomplished with a face-to-face meeting,” said Rhodes, “When raising capital, you need to turn over a lot of rocks before you find the money.”
The venues for that fundraising — the six cities (actually, five of the six) that the start-ups will be visiting are also “off the map” for many Israeli hi-tech startups. A mobile tech company, for example, would probably want to search for investors in places like Palo Alto, Boston, and perhaps New York as well. St. Louis, Memphis, and the other “middle American” cities on this roadshow probably wouldn’t be the first places they would look for investors, but they are exactly the kind of cities where investors would be interested in agritech.
But agritech is a different ball game, said Rhodes, who has run dozens of roadshows for companies in the tech and medical device spaces and is very familiar with investment patterns across the US. “One of the interesting things about the agritech space is that the investors are very diverse, geographically. There are strong pockets of agritech companies and investors scattered throughout the US.”
St. Louis, for example, is home to the Global Agtech Investors Network (GAIN), which runs events and facilitates investments for the over 400 agritech corporations, start-ups, and other organizations in the St. Louis area. As the “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis is right next to the wheat belt, corn belt, and other agricultural-belt states of the Midwest, making it a natural place to look for partnerships, investments, and technology in the agribusiness space. The Trendlines companies will participate in a program at GAIN in St. Louis, and in Memphis, the start-ups will participate in an event at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. Memphis has become a national leader in the US in the biotech space; the city is the eighth-largest medical technology center in the US, with start-ups and established companies in ancillary industries such as biomedical devices, medical labs, drugs and pharmaceuticals and agricultural feedstock and chemicals.
The time is ripe, said Rhodes, for Israel to share its agritech know-how with the rest of the world. “Israel’s thriving entrepreneurial spirit has been instrumental in creating a wealth of smart agritech solutions for more than 65 years,” said Rhodes. “Today, Israel’s agricultural community benefits from synergies with the local high-tech sector, resulting in a truly exciting array of innovative agricultural developments. We’re excited to share with investors promising opportunities in agritech.”