Startup Monterey Bay Connect goes in-depth on agriculture industry

The institute of the College of Business at California State University Monterey Bay’s (CSUMB) Institute for Innovation and Economic Development hosted Startup Monterey Bay Connect, on Tuesday, March 7. The Zoom meeting provided opportunities within companies as well as space for students to network.

The event started with an introduction from Executive Director Brad Barbeau. He introduced the present staff – Dan Ripke, Jennifer Kuan, Lynnette Lathrop, Andy Rabago, Aliah Ibarra, and Mary Ann De Souza.

Barbeau explained that the agriculture business is a major moving force of California’s economy.

“Salinas is home to over $4 billion worth of agriculture output each year,” said Barbeau. “We grow 40% of the country’s strawberries, 70% of the country’s lettuce, and a whole long list of other specialty crops.”

Barbeau’s institution, Startup Monterey Bay, aims to combat the serious challenges agriculture faces, “from labor shortages, water challenges, and a world needing to increase food production by at least 50% by 2050.”

He explained this likely won’t be easy and there are a variety of challenges agriculture businesses will need to overcome.

“Less land will be available, we must do this in the face of growing populations and rising sea levels,” said Barbeau. “It’s gotta be done on the same or less land using fewer resources, fewer pesticides, and less labor.”

The first presentation of the night was hosted by Russell Cole, CEO of AgXactly. AgXactly won the 2021 Startup challenge with it’s system that streamlines data into an easy to use interface to help growers reduce crop losses.

Cole walked attendees through his technology, defining its benefit as, “providing multi-sensory data, tracking, and analytics. Reporting builds transparency throughout our farming organization across multiple fronts.” He also took the time to inform attendees he is looking to bring in more team members this summer by offering internships.

Patrick Zelaya, CEO of HeavyConnect, won the 2016 Startup challenge. His company provides digital documentation solutions for the food supply chain to manage food safety, worker training, productivity tracking, and more.

Zelaya explained his app as “a simple, intuitive mobile app that translates to the language of the user. It works offline, a trait critical to the agriculture business, drops GPS pins, scans barcodes, and adds context like images to what is traditionally documented on paper.” This business model was inspired by farmworkers spending extra hours processing paperwork that kept them from their families after work.

Farmwise – a company started in 2016 by Jaime Eltit – builds innovative systems and processes to streamline farm operations and increase food production efficiency. One such system is their use of data to, “localize each plant and then perform a mechanical laceration around that plant to remove weeds,” said Eltit.

Farmwise currently operates as a service, but plans to expand the model into a leasing and sales system with the new launch of the next generation of robotics.

The final presentation of the night was from Fresno State Water, Energy and Technology Center (WET), an incubator supporting the growth of companies invested in 21st century agriculture. Represented by the company’s Venture Development Manager, Jeff Macon, the presentation centered on how the institution assists rising stars in the agritech field, as well as the institution’s solutions to various water related crises.

Startup Monterey Bay Connect provides resources for students looking for work, small businesses in need of grants, or for people looking for more information around one of the most important fields in California. Their next workshop is on Tuesday, April 12 and will focus on drones, automation and robotic technology.

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