After a week filled with fascinating and inspiring business pitches from ten of America’s most innovative entrepreneurs, the American Farm Bureau Federation announced the 2021 Ag Innovation Challenge winners.
Launched in 2015, the Challenge is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs launching food and agriculture businesses, and it continues to focus on strengthening rural America through ag entrepreneurship today.
Right to the punch
AFBF was thrilled to announce that the 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year is Harvust, a Washington-based software platform that helps farms with their most valuable resource: their people. From the moment a new employee walks in the door to the moment they are doing productive work, Harvust is making some of the most important HR tasks on a farm like hiring, training and communication simple, fast and organized.
Harvust was selected by four expert judges after a rapid-fire “Shark Tank”-style pitch competition. As the Entrepreneur of the Year, Harvust will receive $50,000 in start-up funds.
After listening to the pitches, exploring the four finalists’ websites and delving into their social media platforms, AFBF Convention attendees and followers cast their vote for the winner of the 2021 People’s Choice award: Agro Empresas Black Belt. Agro Empresas Black Belt is a Puerto Rico-based company that standardizes the methods and processes necessary for hydroponic production. The business uses the integration of Lean Six Sigma methodology in the development of agricultural production processes in abandoned poultry facilities, among others. It identifies facilities and provides supporting tools in continuous research and developments. As the People’s Choice Award winner, Agro Empresas Black Belt will receive $20,000 in start-up funds.
Harvust and Agro Empresas Black Belt competed against two other semi-finalists in the last round of the competition, Arbre Technologies, Inc. and TerraClear, Inc.
Arbre Technologies is a Wisconsin-based startup that uses state-of-the-art software and innovative RFID hardware to help horticultural businesses efficiently manage inventory — improving workflows, eliminating waste, reducing time, decreasing costs and improving margins.
TerraClear is an Idaho-based company that improves farm productivity by automating the clearance of hazardous rocks from farm fields. TerraClear is developing an end-to-end system for field rock removal that reduces the labor requirement of an unpopular, but important farm activity - picking rock.
Visit the Ag Innovation Challenge webpage to read more about these four finalists, as well as the additional six semi-finalists and their fantastic businesses.
The 2021 Challenge’s judges came from a variety of backgrounds. The judges’ wide range of experiences alongside their immense expertise made them a formidable bunch.
The Semi-Finalist judges included:
- Lawrence “Larry” Page, Ph.D., Principal, Lewis & Clark Partners
- Martha Smith, Global Industry Affairs Lead, Bayer Crop Science
- William (Will) Hileman, President and CEO, Farm Bureau Bank
- Ben Fogle, Partner, Midwest Growth Partners
- John Reiher, Strategic Alliances Lead, John Deere
- Amar Singh, Managing Director, FMC Ventures
The Finalist judges included:
- Taya Spelhaug, TechSpark Manager – Microsoft
- Tom Schryver, Executive Director of the Center for Regional Economic Advancement, Cornell University
- Nick Wijnberg, Vice President - Food and Agribusiness, Farm Credit
- James “Jamie” Johansson, President, California Farm Bureau Federation
Visit the Ag Innovation Challenge webpage to read more about the 2021 Challenge judges.
Farm Credit is committed to rural communities
Farm Credit supports rural communities and agriculture with reliable, consistent credit and financial services, today and tomorrow. Providing much-needed capital to Rural Business Investment Companies (RBICs) and other rural entities, mentoring rural entrepreneurs and fostering innovation in rural America are other ways Farm Credit fulfills its mission to support vibrant rural communities. That is why Farm Credit is pleased to be the American Farm Bureau Federation’s premier partner on the Ag Innovation Challenge.