3 August 2019
By: Carlos Marin Moreno
The start ups that are working to link new technologies with agricultural production are oriented in two main directions: digitalization throughout the production process and food marketing, and the development of products that tend to replace raw materials,” said consultant Ignacio Peña, who spoke at the Agtech conference organized by Nesters (Agtech startup boosters), CREA and the Argentine Rural Society during the Rural Expo in Palermo. The objective of the meeting was to analyze the present of the startups oriented to the field and to try to foresee the next stages.
An example of the first category of ventures is Índigo Argentina, a company that, through the application of artificial intelligence, identifies beneficial microorganisms for plant development, multiplies them and applies them to crops through seed treatment. Thus, plants can increase their resistance to stress, prevent diseases and increase the absorption of nutrients.
The second category includes, for example, Beyond Meat, a company already worth $12 billion because it is working to produce hamburgers, meatballs and other products from gluten- and transgenic-free vegetables; they look and feel just as good as the meat they replace.
Another Israeli company – Future meat technologies – has as its motto Animal free; earth friendly and develops procedures to produce steaks at home from muscle cells without resorting to animal husbandry. These products will displace part of the conventional meat in 10 to 30 years according to different estimates. A similar process is taking place in milk.
During the conference, the communicator María Eugenia Estenssoro recalled that the countries that grew the most in recent years were those that incorporated more science and technology. “The Argentine countryside has that challenge ahead and could become another Israel or the Silicon Valley of bioeconomics,” she said.
Landed on the everyday plane, this concept demands that entrepreneurs with good ideas “detect an opportunity, get the capital to develop the project and have the talent to get the users to adopt it,” said Carlos Becco, director of Índigo Argentina. To carry out this process “you need a technology developer, an investor and users,” said Federico Bert, CREA’s Research and Development leader.
The first stage – the opportunity, in this case in the agricultural sector – is just around the corner. An example presented during the day was that of the company S4: “We noticed that in Argentine agriculture there was a lot of incorporation of technology, but the problem of climate risk was not solved and the insurance companies had not incorporated the necessary techniques to transfer it to the financial market,” said Santiago González Venzano, owner of the start up that offers management of this threat preventing producers of droughts and floods.
“The second stage – getting the necessary capital to scale up the project – is a limiting one in Argentina, but not an insurmountable barrier,” said Alejandro Larosa, president of the Agrofy portal. And he added: “When it is necessary to go outside the country, it is necessary to generate long-term trust by sending information for a long time; before approval there is a period of maturation, with a certain rhythm, to achieve the final leverage,” he said.
For his part, Becco recalled that “the agricultural sector is the largest in the Argentine economy that has not yet been digitalized, which highlights the enormous opportunity for entrepreneurs to obtain financing.
“But opportunity and capital are not enough; effective adoption by users must be achieved. Generally, investors have patience with the period that goes by until the monetization of the project, but they don’t have patience with adoption,” distinguished Becco. “If adoption is not reached quickly, the business model has to change; if you don’t have many clients, you are nobody,” he said.