Supply Chains And Soil Microbes: How 2 Startups Represent The Evolving Faces Of Agriculture
Published: Dec 02, 2022
One startup develops algorithms to calculate a billion transactions per second, helping farmers and commodity buyers understand how scores of factors can affect their contracts and future emissions. The other creates patented technology to discover biological alternatives to agrochemicals.
In October 2022, both innovators deservedly won the Radicle Inclusion Challenge presented by Nutrien, a partnership aimed at supporting agri-food technology platforms with leaders from historically underrepresented communities in agriculture. Both organizations are run by individuals who represent the evolving faces of agriculture: Martha Montoya founded supply-chain data modeler Agtools in 2017, and Angela de Manzanos Guinot co-founded biochemical partner FA Bio in 2015.
Nutrien, the world’s largest provider of crop inputs and services, approached Radicle Growth, a company-building platform for early-stage agriculture and food technologies, to create an inclusivity-centered edition of its Radicle Challenge series, where entrepreneurs pitch a panel of experts to secure investment funding. Thus formed Nutrien’s Radicle Inclusion Challenge, which will supply Agtools and FA Bio with $250,000 investments from Nutrien to continue such innovation. By committing to startups with diverse leadership that form critical bridges to support supply chains and sustainable crop inputs, Nutrien is driving impactful change in the agriculture industry.
Agtools Crunches the Numbers for Supply-Chain Insights
What began as a tool to present granular data on fruits and vegetables has turned into so much more. Martha Montoya’s platform has become a patent-pending solution that uses algorithms and machine learning to monitor more than 75 variables impacting the entire ag-food supply chain, with data and algorithms that can calculate more than 1 billion transactions per second. Agtools provides real-time market data for more than 500 commodities to help farmers and buyers develop better practices around planting and harvesting. It helps stakeholders forecast more-accurate finances and outcomes, and it can help lower associated risks and carbon emissions.
“The best part of the whole event was the ability to have these more intimate times to discuss topics with executives at Nutrien and Radicle and many other attendees,” Montoya says. She believes it’s not enough for a grower to maximize yields and lower its costs; they also need to know the variables that could impact their products after they leave the farm.
FA Bio Engineers Biological Alternatives to Chemical Inputs
If Agtools crunches the data on crop supply chains, FA Bio helps make those crops more sustainable. Angela de Manzanos Guinot developed a unique technology, SporSenZ, that studies crop and microbe interactions to find biological alternatives to agricultural chemicals. Partnering with growers in select areas, FA Bio provides SporSenZ technology in exchange for samples of active soil microbes. Over time, the company takes the samples and builds microbial libraries to characterize microbial activity and discover active ingredients. FA Bio licenses those ingredients to commercial partners, which in turn produce biological fungicides and fertilizers.
“There is a great gap there that needs to be addressed [with female founders],” Guinot says. “Opportunities like this give visibility, and embracing diversity and inclusion for women and underrepresented founders is a must for the industry to start addressing this gap.”
One Step on the Broader Journey
The investment in Agtools and FA Bio is just one step on the broader journey toward diverse representation in agriculture. Despite women and minoritized communities representing a growing demographic in agriculture, resources and leadership positioning remain scant. Women earn more bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agriculture and natural resources but represent just 36% of primary leadership among on America’s farms. Across all industries, women founders have raised just 2.2% of all the deployed U.S. venture-capital funding, with Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) founders accounting for a paltry 1.2%.
Nutrien approached Radicle Growth to help address some of these disparities, working with the platform to develop an Inclusion Challenge for 2022. The program aims to support actions within the agri-food sector among startups focused on women and/or BIPOC groups.
“Through our approach to inclusion, we focus on the opportunities we have to really make an impact on more equitable outcomes,” says Candace Laing, SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer. “If we want to really make an impact, we have to look at opportunities across our entire business, across our whole value chain, and that includes our partnerships and investments.”
Diversity goals enable Nutrien to recruit from a larger talent pool, with each business unit owning a tailored diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) plan to execute appropriate strategies. Nutrien also encourages diversity in its supplier base through procurement practices that minimize barriers and remove biases in supplier engagement.
Other finalists for the 2022 Radicle Inclusion Challenge presented by Nutrien included Re-Nuble, an ag-tech company that converts food waste into fertilizers, and Root Applied Sciences, a platform that monitors airborne pathogens to reduce unnecessary pesticides. The current challenge adds a lens of diversity, but innovation also remains core.
Agtech and FA Bio may not be household names just yet, but the investment and partnership from Nutrien will help them build out their platforms, as well as fuel the broader journey toward leadership diversity across the agri-food industry.