Agriculture is Nebraska's top industry, so it makes sense that startup companies will turn up with the goal to solve problems and make operations more efficient.
However, the companies starting out in the ag-tech industry in Nebraska and throughout the Midwest often have been hampered by a lack of investors willing to take a chance on them.
Two Nebraska-based organizations are looking to change that.
Earlier this month, Omaha-based Burlington Capital and Lincoln-based Invest Nebraska announced plans for a venture capital fund focused on ag-tech companies.
The Burlington Capital Ag-Venture Fund, which aims to raise $11 million by the end of the year, will have a "producer-first and industry-first approach," the organizations said in a news release, with plans to draw its investors and advisors from the ranks of farmers, agribusinesses and agricultural trade associations.
"Though Ag-Venture is not limited by geography, we intend to back founders who are not just technologists, but who are also producers, growers and farmers,” said Ben Williamson, one of the managing directors of Burlington Capital Ag-Venture. “They have walked the fields and shaken the hands of those across the backbone of America. These founders do not just speak the language, they deeply understand the customer and their problems, and they are rolling up their sleeves to fix them.”
The fund is looking to make "seed-stage" investments in a number of ag-tech companies not only in Nebraska but across the Midwest over the next five years. Seed-stage investments target companies in their early stages, and they usually represent the first round of outside investment from people who don't have some connection to a company or its founders.
“We’ve built a strong bench full of people from the front lines of agriculture across the Midwest who are eager to provide advice and be first customers, advisors and mentors to these entrepreneurs," said Mike Jung, Burlington Capital Ag-Venture’s other managing director and CEO of Burlington Capital International.
The fund plans to partner with many local, regional and national ag-tech accelerators and incubators. One of those partnerships, with The Combine, Invest Nebraska’s AgTech incubator at Nebraska Innovation Campus, has already borne fruit.
Williamson said Burlington Capital Ag-Venture has invested in two companies based at The Combine, Birds Eye Robotics and Marble Technologies.
Birds Eye, which used to be called Dynamic Motion, is the brainchild of Scott Niewohner of Herman. He developed a robot that can break up bedding and remove dead birds in large poultry houses.
The company said the seed funding, the amount of which was not disclosed, will be used to complete several third-generation versions of its poultry caretaker robot so they can be deployed in pilot programs with growers.
Marble Technologies also is a robotics company, with a robot that automates some meat processing tasks that have a history of causing worker injury.
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