Yield Lab grows next crop of AgTech startups

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Agriculture Technology is a fast-expanding sector in the startup world, drawing more and more attention as funding increases and potential solutions to global problems begin to develop. The Midwest is uniquely positioned to be a staging ground for AgTech companies, and St. Louis has begun carving out a space within the industry.

Photo courtesy of Yield Lab
Photo courtesy of Yield Lab

Yield Lab, a St. Louis-based accelerator for Agricultural Technology companies founded in 2014, recently wrapped its first cohort in September. Six companies, AGERpoint,  APSE, Avergenix, Holganix, S4 and Terviva completed the nine-month program, which Program Director Matt Plummer declared a resounding success.

“We were more than satisfied, we were ecstatic, with how the first nine months of our first fund year went,” he says, looking back on Yield Lab’s first class of companies. “When you have an investment portfolio, all the things you like to see produced by your portfolio we saw throughout the nine months. We saw our companies develop investors, we saw them develop collaborators, many of them left with new customers. So when those things are being produced out of a portfolio you invest in, we are more than happy with their progress.”

The accelerator ran from January to September, and was comprised of monthly two-day sprints. Since many of the companies were at different stages of business development, Yield Lab took a month-by-month approach to their accelerator, balancing universal coaching and mentorship with company-tailored resources.

“These companies need a management team, they need a minimum viable product, they need something for us to work with and really get them to that level of selling or a Series A investor,” Plummer explains.

For example, each company took part in a farmer’s panel, where agriculture industry members from corn and soy, livestock and specialty crops heard pitches from the Yield Lab’s portfolio companies and provided feedback for direction.

Photo courtesy of Yield Lab
Photo courtesy of Yield Lab

The other side of the coin was more focused solutions and networking, designed to serve the individual needs of the companies.

“Everything from commodity logistics planning to speaking with a big IT firm on how to best utilize server space for precision agriculture,” Plummer says.

The setup seemed to work, as both Yield Lab and its portfolio companies were happy with the results. Affording crops and livestock the time to grow makes for a longer accelerator, but with manageable monthly commitments, companies are able to balance their time and maximize benefits.

“If we were doing this week by week, then we probably wouldn’t have gotten any applicants at all and wouldn’t have a very good portfolio. But due to the fact they come here for a two-day sprint for programming, then they go back to whatever city, state or country they come from, they really have time to develop the initiatives they worked on here in St. Louis,” Plummer says. “It gives the companies time to really develop their network and leverage the St. Louis agricultural infrastructure.”

Leveraging that infrastructure through Yield Lab’s accelerator has paid dividends. According to Plummer, at least half of the companies in the first class have closed investment rounds since January and at least two have gained customers.

The next class is currently taking shape. Applications for the 2016 cohort opened on September 15, the same moment the Yield Lab took the stage at the Ag Innovation Showcase. They will be open until November 1.

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JJ writes for EQ as well as KMOV, where he works full time covering the St. Louis Cardinals. Previously he worked for a few years with media start-ups. He covered the Missouri Tigers football and basketball teams for KMOV prior to joining full time. Originally from outside Chicago, JJ graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in journalism, and has spent most of his time in the Show Me State since.