AgTech Champion: Behind the Scenes of Accelerator Orizont
Startup incubators and accelerators play a vital role in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and are key for many innovative entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life, or grow their enterprise to scale. Accelerators support and coach agtech pioneers on their way to grow, to improve and revolutionize agriculture for the 21st century.
While we featured many interviews with agtech startups (like Agromapping, Autofarm, or Tvant) it is now time to take a look at the other side of the startup ecosystem. We chatted with Alberto Clerigué, Investment Manager at Sodena from the agrifood / agtech accelerator Orizont, based in Pamplona, Spain.
How did Orizont come about and what has been the pathway of this accelerator? What can we expect from the 2017 classes?
Orizont was born from the Navarra Development Society, Sodena, to become a national, and international, reference in the agricultural sector. Our goal, from the beginning, has been to engage innovative talent and entrepreneurial spirit to revitalize and enhance the agricultural industry.
In this edition, just as in the previous ones, the six participating projects have access to the infrastructure and knowledge needed to set their projects in motion; they also have the support from the Government of Navarra through Sodena and other organizations such as institutes of technology, universities and major national and international companies from the agricultural sector to tutor them during the whole acceleration process.
What has been the biggest challenge or success so far?
So far, our greatest success has been the 12 projects that we’ve accelerated in the past editions and the good results that many of them are having. Specifically, 70% of the projects from the first edition have their products already on the market; among all of them, there have been over 20 deals of high qualifications, and half of them have got either new investors or more funding for their development. These are just a few of the figures that motivate us to continue working every day at Orizont.
To what extent do you interact across the world and how important are the international markets for your company?
The market itself is the best teacher and we know that very well in Orizont. All accelerated projects have access to over 30 major agricultural companies that support entrepreneurs with their technical guidance and knowledge of the market, a very different, and important, characteristic compared to other Spanish, and even international, accelerators.
Why is now the time to start work in the field of Agtech?
The agricultural industry is going through a time where it’s constantly changing. At the same time, it has taken longer to adapt to new technologies. For that reason, we’re convinced that it’s essential to analyze new trends and seek progress to strengthen and regenerate this sector. New technologies have led to a complete paradigm shift and there shouldn’t be any sector alienated from this situation.
On the Appeal of the Agtech Sector
How do you perceive the current labor market situation of the agtech industry in general and how does the demand for employees affect these companies?
Currently, the agricultural industry is the first economic sector in Spain, with over 2.4 million employees. Furthermore, its growth in recent years has led it to an increased turnover of more than 90,000 million euros, which translates to more than 9% of the GDP.
The agricultural sector represents a great opportunity to create jobs and start up new projects. It is an increasingly technological sector that demands innovative ideas for its products, processes and business models. R+D, innovation, sustainability, new patterns of consumption and business development will be key to the future of agriculture.
What criteria are the most important to select a project for acceleration?
Above all, at Orizont we focus on certain parameters such as scalability, a good business model and that it takes them less than a year to debut in the market. Of course, we also take into account how innovative the project is to the agricultural sector; as well as the team that sustains the project, we value that at least there are two or more entrepreneurs that are fully dedicated to the project.
Where do you see the major problems of the agtech sector and what countermeasures would you suggest?
The biggest problem is that there are only 3 out of 100 new entrepreneurs that focus on the agricultural sector. Changing the current situation makes it necessary to innovate and attract talent to one of the most important sectors in the global economy through agtech accelerators that help to give thrust to the entrepreneurial ecosystem so this can grow more effectively. It is true that there are plenty of acceleration initiatives in Spain and that they are slowly introducing themselves to the agricultural sector, so that’s why we must keep moving in this direction.
How big a growth has been displayed by the startups that have been accelerated by Orizont?
If we focus on particular cases, all participants have improved their situation as a result of the acceleration and they have obtained great interest by end clients and companies, obtaining invoices of more than 50,000 euros in some cases.
For Enthusiasts and Students Interested in the Agtech Sector
How do you promote cooperation among all the participants of the Spanish Agtech Ecosystem?
As we explained before, we make a connection between entrepreneurs with good business ideas and companies that have succeeded in the sector. This approach helps startups as much as companies to keep innovating and growing every day. We also take advantage of different moments in which projects from different editions can meet each other, as well as interact with other partner companies of Sodena.
What message would you send to those who are starting a career in the agtech sector and are planning to start a company in this sector?
Just as anything at the beginning, the first times are hard, though the dream of creating something new is the best fuel to overcome all difficulties. Giving up is not allowed. The road won’t be easy, but it’s worth a try.
Are there differences between theoretical science in the entrepreneurial agtech sector and real market situations? What is important for entrepreneurs?
Entrepreneuring in any sector always involves risks. However, one encouraging fact is that 60% of the companies in the agtech sector have been running for more than 5 years, 20% over the general company.
What career opportunities are currently offered in the Agtech-Sector and how will these change, in your opinion?
The agricultural sector is in full transformation, which will lead to the creation of many new jobs that will be linked to the use of new technologies such as Big Data, drones, food 4.0, the internet of things, etcetera.
Which basic qualifications should an employee fulfill to get employed in the agtech sector? What are basic requirements for getting started?
Constancy. As a basic requirement, we highlight the need of a business idea that can be scalable and in which we can trust.
Alberto, thank you very much for these insights!
About the Interviewee
Alberto Clerigué is an Investment Manager at Sodena.
He studied Economics at the University of Deusto and specialised in Management and Business Administration at Harvard University.
Since 2008 he is working at Sodena. Currently he is responsible for the are of Venture Capital for companies and startups in their early phases.
Orizont Aceleradora Agroalimentaria