Fast-track to innovation

Agri-tech venture capital fund GrainInnovate will help boost grains profitability


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The GRDC is backing a push to make Australian agriculture a $100 billion industry. PHOTO Brad Collis

The GRDC is backing a push to make Australian agriculture a $100 billion industry. PHOTO Brad Collis

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A start-up fund is set to shake-up the delivery of grains industry R&D and technology.

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Start-ups creating innovative technologies to boost profitability in Australia's grains industry and solve growers' most difficult problems will be backed through a new $50 million agri-tech venture capital fund, called GrainInnovate.

GRDC and global investment management company Artesian are each contributing $25 million to the fund to flush out ideas and fast-track the delivery of a range of technological innovations to growers from the best start-ups around the world.

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Investments of between $25,000 and $5 million will be provided for the development of innovations in areas as diverse as genetics, sensors, crop protection, storage, automation, renewables, and water and nutrient use efficiency.

GRDC chair John Woods says GrainInnovate will build on GRDC's strong and diverse investment portfolio, giving growers access to leading edge ideas and technologies, "whether developed in a shed in the back paddock in Parkes, discovered in a German-based international life science company or an agri-tech company in Silicon Valley".

"Whether you're a grower, breeder, research scientist, agronomist or ag tech developer if you've got an innovation that can improve production or address a grains industry constraint, we want to hear from you so we can capitalise on those opportunities and maximise the productiveness of our systems," Mr Woods says.

Solving problems

One of the largest institutional pools of capital of its kind, GrainInnovate will be used "as a beacon" to attract world-class food and agricultural technology ventures to Australia, says Artesian director Robert Williams.

"We like dedicated founders who are solving real problems that can use innovative solutions to help the industry," he says.

Research and development is the key to growing Australia's agriculture industry to $100 billion in farm production by 2030, says Federal Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources David Littleproud.

He says the fund will help achieve that goal by bringing business on board while supporting more high-tech jobs and regional industry.

Mr Woods says Australian growers are some of the most innovative in the world, reaping benefits from adopting new and novel technologies for some time.

GRDC chair and Goondiwindi grain grower, John Woods, says GrainInnovate will give growers access to leading-edge ideas and technologies. PHOTO Brad Collis

GRDC chair and Goondiwindi grain grower, John Woods, says GrainInnovate will give growers access to leading-edge ideas and technologies. PHOTO Brad Collis

"We have seen an increase in the gross value of grain production from an average of $6 billion to approximately $15 billion in the past 15 years," he says.

"(And) to stay competitive we need to seek new innovations, new technologies and bright ideas from Australia and around the world and get it into grower hands as quickly as possible."

We have seen an increase in the gross value of grain production from an average of $6 billion to approximately $15 billion in the past 15 years - GRDC chair John Woods

GRDC deputy chief executive Steve Thomas agrees with Mr Woods.

"While Australian grain growers are truly competitive, more of the same won't be good enough," he says.

"We need to be transformational in our thinking and transformational in our approach ... (and) ... access innovation from across the world.

"That's why we have invested in GrainInnovate."

GrainInnovate has been set up specifically for GRDC to back small start-ups who have good ideas around helping the profitability of Australian grain growers, Dr Thomas says.

Investment decisions by the fund will be collaborative, with Artesian bringing its expertise in supporting start-up businesses, and GRDC bringing its knowledge of the priorities of Australian grain growers.

GrainInnovate will nurture, support and resource start-ups that show the potential and commitment to deliver transformational impact to Australian grain grower profitability.

The fund will target scalable, high-growth potential start-ups from all facets of the grain production and processing chain.

These include but are not limited to those working on:

  • Genetic tools and technologies
  • Crop and environmental sensing
  • Grain storage logistics
  • Water and nutrient use efficiency
  • Renewable technologies
  • Frost and heat management
  • Task automation
  • Crop management logistics
  • Crop protection technologies.

Generally, Mr Williams says, first investments will be made at the early launch and proof-of-concept stage (known as seed stage) and later as the companies grow and mature, requiring additional funding (follow-on investment rounds are often called 'angel' stage, Series A, Series B, and so on).

Funding can be provided through to exit, he says.

"And at that stage we are really looking to deliver proceeds back into the fund so we can continue to support companies right through the cycle."

The fund can also be leveraged with additional co-investment to support ventures that GrainInnovate has backed from a seed stage, he says.

More information: www.graininnovate.com; Kylie Dunstan, 0428 864 934, kylie.dunstan@grdc.com.au

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