There are many agrifood conferences these days, but none quite like evokeAG. Food trucks, pitch tents, international guest speakers, and the global who’s who of innovators will all gather in Melbourne to showcase what Australia and the APAC region are up to.

A big advantage we have in Australia (and New Zealand) is our innovative, resilient producers. Facing low subsidies and extreme climate volatility, and with a keen eye for innovation, our producers have insights that are critical to helping our startups build world class solutions.

That’s why we’re thrilled that AgriFutures has focused on getting more producers to attend evokeAG this year, from the Farmers2Founders Bootcamp cohort to the producer-led innovation panel.

But for the producers coming along who may be less familiar with agrifood tech, getting involved and engaging with startups can be overwhelming. Everyone speaks in jargon, everything is moving a million miles an hour, and it’s hard to tell the snake oil salesmen from the early, but promising, winners.

That’s why we’ve come up with 5 tips to help producers engage with startups and make the most out of evokeAG 2020.

#1 Look for inspiration in other industries

It can be tempting to write off solutions from other industries or sectors in ag that may seem irrelevant to you. How can an app that works in horticulture add value to a mixed farmer? Similarly, it can be tempting to overlook products that have been around for a while. Maybe you’ve looked at farm management software in the past, but didn’t see anything with a simple user experience or offline capabilities.

But in fact, one of the superpowers of startups is their ability to rapidly evolve their business models, rapidly advance their technologies, and to apply technologies across different sectors in agriculture. Something that might not have been ready or cost effective even just a few years ago, may today blow you away.

So as you walk through ‘startup alley’, don’t limit yourself to the familiar- challenge yourself to look for inspiration in new places. And be ready to be surprised about how quickly some technologies have evolved, or how quickly they can be evolved to better suit your particular industry’s needs with a little feedback from some willing producers.

#2 Ask questions and beware of buzzwords

When you go to a tech conference and say “AI” the common understanding is artificial intelligence. In agriculture, the same acronym refers to artificial insemination.

EvokeAG is fantastic for bringing together diverse perspectives and attracting new talent into agriculture, but that doesn’t mean everyone speaks the same language. The startup world in particular is full of buzzwords: ”unicorn”, “go to market,” and “incubation,” for example, all have specific and not very intuitive meanings.

So beware of buzzwords and don’t be afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand a term. Also, be wary of using buzzwords, as some entrepreneurs may not be familiar with agricultural phrases, equipment brands, or even Aussie slang. evokeAG is a great opportunity to learn, and to teach.

#3 Evaluate more than the product

Often, evaluating the tech is the easy part! You can always access the list of specs for a product, and most companies will give you a free trial or demo. But with startups, it’s important to evaluate the team behind the technology as well.

To help, consider:

  • Do they understand your workflows and the key drivers of your business?
  • Do they understand your needs, constraints, and farming system?
  • Do they listen, ask questions, and take feedback?
  • Do they have enough money in the bank to stick around?
  • Do they appreciate the importance of support?
  • Are they someone you want to work with?

Asking these questions can help you find the companies that are worth your time, even if their tech isn’t yet ready.

#4 Consider being more than a customer

The most obvious way to work with startups is to be a customer of their off the shelf product. There’s nothing wrong with this of course, but there are many creative ways to work with startups.

Early-stage startups especially often need help refining and improving their product, which can be an opportunity to get early access, help customize features to your geography or system, and build lasting relationships. If this is of interest, consider getting creative in the way you work with the startup, for example as an advisor, investor, or early-adopter. As you begin to explore this, make sure you have a conversation about how your time (and possibly money) will be rewarded. Options include equity, publicity, cash, support, and discounts.

And if you do just decide to be a customer of the product as is, then be mindful that even then the product may not be 100% able to meet your needs- the company may still be developing new features. If that is the case, regardless of what stage the startup is at, your feedback is invaluable.

#5 Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

EvokeAG will have some amazing products and solutions on display, but unfortunately there are no silver bullet solutions in agtech. If something looks interesting, don’t be afraid to be brave and give it a go. However the product ends up, you’re sure to learn something on the journey!

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