AgTech Innovators Evaluate Market Potential for Agriculture Research at AFBF Convention


AgTech Innovators Evaluate Market Potential for Agriculture Research at AFBF Convention

AgTech Innovators Evaluate Market Potential for Agriculture Research at AFBF Convention 2560 1920 I-Corps Hub: Interior Northeast

In January, the Interior Northeast I-Corps Hub (IN I-Corps) led its annual “Ag-Corps” regional course, focused on entrepreneurship training for STEM researchers developing agriculture technology solutions. Over the course of one month, the selected teams participated virtually and in person at the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) Convention to analyze the market potential of their innovations.

This year, the IN I-Corps Hub provided funding for seven teams to attend the AFBF Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah. IN I-Corps partners Cornell University and the University of Vermont hosted the program. Instructed by Ken Rother and Tina Thornton, the participants received on-site entrepreneurship training before striking out on their own to interview 30 potential customers at the convention.

The goal of this industry-specific I-Corps program is to allow ag-tech researchers to explore the market fit and potential customer base for their technology innovations by interviewing farmers and other conference attendees.  At the AFBF convention, the teams have access to the trade show and many other events, such as the Ag Innovation Challenge a national competition for startups in the agriculture industry.

Hailee Greene, co-founder of Greene Harvest and an MBA student at Cornell, describes the value of Ag-Corps’ role in the customer discovery process.

“We’ve found it extremely difficult to get 1:1 with farmers unless we had a personal introduction,” Greene explains. “Having the opportunity to talk with farmers across the country was priceless! We gained valuable insight into the relationship between farmers and processors and have been able to refine our business plan to reflect such and to better align with our key partners.”

The 2024 teams that participated in Ag-Corps were:

  • HarmonIQ (Marco Caliandro, Joshua Moore, and Mollie Davis – University of Vermont) is developing wireless patches to monitor moisture content in soil for medium to high value crops.
  • Eggdicator (Adam Mehall and Gerard Dumancas – University of Scranton) is detecting the purity of chicken egg whites by quickly measuring the presence of deleterious substances like melamine, calcium chloride, benzoic acid, and sodium alginate.
  • Eutrobac (Jesse Wexler and Ellie Sangree — Hamilton College) is creating a biofilter to remove large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from water.
  • Greene Harvest (Hailee Greene and Maylin Murdock – Cornell University) is developing a dual-purpose hemp harvester designed to optimize crop yield and enhance the quality of both fiber and grain.
  • Wandering Shepard (Neil Helfrich and Sheldon Archibald – Cornell University) is making a wireless device that sits inside the rumen of livestock and monitors their health and location.
  • Phytoflock (Albert Charles and Aida Muneechai – Cornell University) is using grape waste as a feed supplement for chickens, reducing the use of antibiotics within the poultry industry.
  • BeeSpace Gardens (Corey Reese and Jonas Funk – Cornell University) is developing a platform to help people make pollinator gardens.

After the convention, the teams reconvened virtually to present their market-fit evaluations and receive final coaching, and options for more local resources. They also received information about the NSF National I-Corps Teams program, a seven-week intensive program that awards participants up to $50,000 to conduct over 100 customer interviews along with additional entrepreneurship training. Participating in the I-Corps Teams program also gives startups an advantage in receiving SBIR/STTR seed funding that provides small businesses with non-dilutive funding offered by 13 federal agencies.

Each year, the IN I-Corps Hub offers several industry-specific courses, like Ag-Corps that include travel to a national conference, as well as dozens of virtual courses for innovators in any STEM field. Explore this year’s upcoming regional courses here!