Ag Tech Accelerator Launches in Salinas

Jul 10, 2014

Credit Doug McKnight

A new program aims to bring technical innovation to the agricultural fields of the Salinas Valley.  It’s called Thrive Accelerator, and it’s looking for ten ag tech start-up companies that will receive mentorship, have the chance to test their technology in local fields and compete for venture capital funding. 

It’s part of a broader vision to make the Salinas Valley the future ag tech hub of the world.

John Stanton is with SVG Partners, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm that launched Thrive Accelerator in partnership with Forbes.  The announcement was made at an Ag Tech Summit held Wednesday in Monterey.  

In an interview, he says they’ll spend two months working with the ten start-ups that make the cut.

JS: Through the process they’re going to access to the region’s companies, so they get access to customers.  That’s what all start-ups want.  They usually want investment, they want access to customers and they want advice and mentorship, so they’re going to get all three of those things.

KA: For you, what does the farm of the future look like?

JS: For my perspective, coming kind of from the outside in, knowing the technologies that exist today, it’s seems relatively clear to me that’s its sensors I’d say, primarily.  And that leading to traceability and trackability from literally almost at the plant level, ultimately.  Like if I look at future 50 years from now, I think you’ll be able to understand exactly what’s happening at the plant level, by plant because of the technologies that are being evolved today.

One of the things I think about a lot is, and I mean this with the utmost respect to a lot of the ag organizations, but it’s almost like going from kind of carpet bombing ag, which is like taking an entire field and just dousing it with pesticides, dousing it with water, whatever it might be.  But going into precision ag, which is just a more sophisticated version of looking at the specific plants, looking at the specific area of the field and applying what that particular plant needs, what that particular area needs rather than just applying across an entire field or an entire acre, whatever it might be.

KA: Let’s just finish by going back to the Thrive Accelerator, what does it mean for the ten companies involved and what’s the ultimate end of that after the eight weeks?

JS: So the ultimate end, possible funding up to $5-million.  No guarantees of course because it depends on what the idea might be.

KA: So in the end do you see this meaning as much to the Salinas Valley as it will to those companies?

JS: I think it all goes together.  At the end of the day, we want to also to create jobs in the Salinas region as well.  And so it all feeds on itself.

And so those companies, it could literally make or break a company.  I mean a company could go from like struggling, not have funding to getting once commercial deal with one ag company in this region and they’re off and running. So it could mean everything to the company, and obviously to the region it helps.

Referring to Silicon Valley, I mean I think 50% of the people from Silicon Valley are not from Silicon Valley.  I mean they’re there because they want to participate in this ecosystem.  We’re trying to do the same thing in this region, create this ecosystem.  And it’s going to take time, things take time. I mean Silicon Valley took, what 50, 60 years to evolve and it’s a feeding frenzy now in Silicon Valley.

So this is a broad vision, I know.  But there are attributes that exist within Salinas and the Salinas Valley and the leadership that exist here, and the proximity to Silicon Valley make it a perfect, perfect combination.

John Stanton with SVG Partners which is looking for ag tech start-ups for its Thrive Accelerator program.  The deadline to apply is September 15th.  The ten selected start-ups will be announced a month later.  The accelerator will be based in downtown Salinas.

The CEO of SVG Partners, John Hartnett, is one of the founding members of the Steinbeck Innovation Foundation.  Former Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue is the other founder. 

The Steinbeck Innovation Foundation is behind a long term, multi pronged effort by the City of Salinas and local agricultural companies to make Salinas an ag tech hub.