Written By: Henry Gordon-Smith, Founder & CEO of Agritecture
It’s been 10 years since I started blogging about “agritecture” — the art, science, and business of integrating agriculture in the built environment — around the same time that the first commercial vertical farms in North America were getting off the ground, and at a time when it was becoming increasingly popular for architects to dream up inspiring but extremely unrealistic urban ag integrations.
Since then, the industry has changed dramatically. According to AgFunder, indoor/controlled environment ag companies raised $1.3B through venture capital in 2020, an increase of more than 15x from the $77M raised in 2015. When I first began covering the industry, farming operators would often try to do it all — design the farm, create their own operational procedures, develop their own technology to optimize procedures, and market and sell the final product. Flash forward to today — it’s now common to see a different company focus exclusively on each one of these processes. Technology has advanced, yes, but it’s also the innovation in operating models and the shift toward specialization that has improved the economics of CEA.
Still, success is far from guaranteed today, and some of the same challenges exist for new entrants to this space that existed ten years ago. New entrepreneurs continue to be attracted to CEA in significant numbers, and according to our latest Global CEA Census Report, 49% out of more than 300 founders surveyed had no previous farm experience before starting their business. We’ve even heard estimates from equipment providers that as much as 80% of their leads lack prior operating experience.
There’s two challenges new CEA entrepreneurs face today that we believe are even more significant, however. These are related to selecting crops — and the right equipment/technology to grow those crops — and finding access to startup capital. Here are two more eye-catching stats from CEA Census data that back this up:
#1: 73% of founders would choose their equipment, technology, or crops differently if they could go back in time;
#2: 78% of founders were either unsuccessful altogether in raising capital or were unable to rely on traditional sources like commercial lenders for that financing.
At the same time, my team and I speak to quality equipment providers all the time who struggle to differentiate themselves from a growing list of competitors. Many, including myself, have grown increasingly frustrated by unproven claims, a lack of data transparency, and greenwashing that seem to plague the industry.
At Agritecture, we’ve always prided ourselves on being technology agnostic — meaning remaining unbiased in our evaluations of any solutions provider in order to align ourselves 100% with the goals of each individual client. And we remain committed to this approach with our consulting services and our general business approach.
But in 2021, we’re starting to see a wider differentiation in capabilities, standards, data transparency, and sustainability commitments amongst the ever-growing list of CEA vendors. We feel a responsibility as thought leaders to highlight those companies who are pulling ahead and work closer with them. We also feel a need to do this at scale in order to have a meaningful impact on the 73% of founders who regret their crop/equipment choices and the 78% who have had difficulty unlocking the financing necessary to scale up.
Here’s our plan.
As you may know, last year we unveiled Agritecture Designer, the first digital platform for planning controlled environment farms. Designer allows anyone, anywhere, the ability to learn commercial CEA best practices and build & compare high-level economic models for their future farms.
Today, we’re announcing the launch of an extension of Designer — the Agritecture Partner Network. This network, divided into financing partners and equipment partners, will supercharge our efforts to help connect new and expanding CEA entrepreneurs to premium solutions in a methodical, digital-first, and data-driven way.
The Agritecture Partner Network is launching with three official financing partners:
- Harvest Returns — democratizing agricultural investments via equity crowdfunding;
- Mainvest — investment platform connecting brick & mortar businesses with investors in their communities who care;
- FarmRaise — the easiest way to get farm grants and loans, informed by and built for farmers;
Plus three initial equipment partners:
- Ceres Greenhouse Solutions — energy-efficient and durable greenhouses for any climate in the world;
- Montel — high-density mobile vertical farming systems that maximize space;
- Urban Crop Solutions — automated plant factories that scale.
Our plan is to expand this network rapidly over the next 6 months by forming partnerships with the top providers in the industry who want to move the needle when it comes to data integrity. Agritecture Designer’s users win through increased transparency with equipment provider options and through unique discounts and benefits they’ll unlock with our financing providers. Agritecture’s partners win by gaining access to incremental leads and through time savings as we work together to speed up their typical sales cycle.
We also believe there is immense power in the network effect of this collective as it grows. For example, when each partner shares unqualified leads with the rest of the network, it grows the overall pie for everyone. And as the network orchestrator, Agritecture can find patterns that emerge from the aggregated data — including opportunities that may be going unmet across the industry — and share that information back with our partners.
So if you’re a CEA equipment or financing provider, we want you to get in touch with us today and learn more.
You may have also seen Agritecture experiment recently with sponsored content on our blog. After witnessing our traffic nearly triple over the last year, we saw the opportunity to give companies a more tangible platform to market their products and services to our global audience. But in keeping with the original intentions of the Agritecture blog from 10 years ago, we are striving for authenticity and transparency. You will not find banner ads on our site, for example. Rather, you’ll find sponsored content in the form of new thought pieces; inspiring success stories; educational articles that detail new solutions; and in-depth interviews or webinars conducted with innovators. Because this content will be more promotional in its calls-to-action, it will be marked “sponsored” on our blog to clearly differentiate it from non-promotional pieces by other guest authors.
We will aim to elevate the conversation not just through these posts, but also by working closer with industry players on their content and marketing strategies. Having observed, interacted with, and grown our following for a decade now, we know how to segment this audience, how to find messages that resonate with each segment, and how to develop an authentic and authoritative voice that will connect with your target customers.
Reach out to me directly if you’re interested in exploring these services further.