The American Farm Bureau Federation today announced the top 10 teams – four finalists and six semi-finalists – in the 2017 Farm Bureau Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge. The challenge, now in its third year, provides opportunities for individuals to showcase business innovations being developed in rural communities throughout the U.S. It is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs working on food and agriculture businesses.
AFBF President Zippy Duvall made the announcement at the organization’s October board of directors meeting, noting that four of the top 10 teams are ag technology entries.
“Entrepreneurship is alive and well in rural America,” Duvall said. “It’s a pleasure to recognize these 10 outstanding businesses. The FB Challenge addresses some of the unique obstacles entrepreneurs typically face, namely, limited options for support such as startup funding.”
The final four teams, chosen from 356 applicants, were each awarded $15,000 and will advance to the next phase of the challenge. The final four are:
* Grow Bioplastics LLC, Knoxville, Tennessee—ag tech entry. Renewable, biodegradable products that eliminate oil-based plastics for farmers, greenhouse and nursery managers, and home gardeners. Team lead: Tony Bova.
* Levrack LLC, Seward, Nebraska—support services entry. An efficient and orderly solution to reduce clutter in farm shops. Team lead: Ryan Stauffer.
* Vertical Harvest Hydroponics, Anchorage, Alaska—farm/ranch entry. Turnkey, hydroponic vegetable production facilities inside 40-foot-long insulated shipping containers. Team lead: Linda Janes.
* Windcall Manufacturing Inc., Venango, Nebraska—ag tech entry. Grain Goat, a battery powered, hand-held combine for sampling moisture content of grain. Team lead: Martin Bremmer.
“We’re super excited,” said Tony Bova of Grow Bioplastics. “This is one of the first competitions that we’ve had that’s really a serious validation from the first industry we want to get into and that’s agriculture.”
Semi-finalists in the competition were awarded $10,000 each, thanks to the generous sponsorship of Farm Credit. They are:
* Demeter Inc., Irwin, Ohio—ag tech entry. Low-cost precision agriculture software and sensor systems derived from rugged, field-tested military technologies. Team lead: Dr. Terry Hofecker.
* Farmzie, Raleigh, North Carolina—support services entry. Marketing tools, payment processing and reporting systems to help small farmers access local markets. Team lead: Griffe Youngleson.
* Gardens 4 Education, Hanford, California—marketing program entry. Tomato garden kits for schools as a healthy alternative to cookie and candy fundraisers. Team lead: Jeannie Williams.
* Inland Sea Company LLC, Ames, Iowa—farm/ranch entry. Sustainable salmon production system that features consistent weekly harvest and takes advantage of economies of scale. Team lead: Jackson Kimle.
* Lowcountry Street Grocery, Charleston, South Carolina—direct markets entry. Community-supported mobile farmers’ market that delivers local, farm-fresh, healthy food and provides nutrition education. Team lead: Lindsey Barrow Jr.
* Performance Livestock Analytics Inc., Osage, Iowa—ag tech entry. Data-driven, real-time farm management and analytics systems for precision livestock operations. Team lead: Dustin Balsley.
The final four will pitch their business ideas to a team of judges in front of a live audience at AFBF’s 98th Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show in Phoenix on Jan. 8, 2017. They’ll compete for the Rural Entrepreneur of the Year Award and an additional $15,000 in prize money, courtesy of sponsor Farm Bureau Bank. After the live-streamed event, members of the public will be invited to vote online for the People’s Choice Award and an additional $10,000.
The top 10 challenge teams were selected by 15 judges with expertise in business development, agribusiness lending and entrepreneurial coaching.