It’s the middle of August and I’m in San Diego on a balmy Monday evening attending an Ag Tech conference sponsored by attorney Roger Royse and his AgTech Innovation Network (www.royselawincubator.com). Held at Marina Village just beyond Sea World, the palm trees were swaying as the sun slowly set. Not a bad gig for me at all.
The event, a first for San Diego was slated as bringing “together founders, investors, educators and government officials who are building the future of Agriculture Technology.” I was pleased to be in the room as I have been aware of Mr. Royse’s work, primarily in the Silicon Valley, for quite some time. His goals for the conference were several-fold: to engage with San Diego’s AgTech community, to provide legal services where needed and to act as a connector for startup companies in industry. According to his website, “We connect promising startups with markets, financiers and partners. The RoyseLaw AgTech Innovation Network hosts demo days, meetings and pitch sessions for select start-up companies with farmers, ag and food companies, and investors.”
From my view the room was at capacity with over 50 attendees while without question, a large percentage in attendance were seeking funding for their operations. In fact, within a half hour of the event kicking off, there were four pitches made by local San Diego startups making precision Ag, big data, lighting, sensor technologies, and robotics all part of the discussion. Mr. Royse led a panel of speakers, which included several representatives from the CPA firm Moss-Adams (www.mossadams.com), a practice focused in AgTech, and Eric Ellestad, founding partner of Los Angeles-based Local Roots Farms (www.localrootsfarms.com).
With his finger on the pulse of AgTech funding in particular, Mr. Royse noted that the total of deals to fund startups in the AgTech space was $4.6 billion in 2015, with $2.5 billion spent so far in 2016. He further mentioned, “AgTech is the next big thing. Ag is the last frontier. It’s unchartered territory.”
He went on to mention that funding is defined by three key areas: Crowd, Venture and Corporate Investment. Or more specifically, a Founder’s round has a fund value of $100-$200 thousand, while the Price Round also known as the “Convertible Debt Round” is valued at $1-$2 million. Finally, Institutional funding begins at $2 million. Think AeroFarms and Goldman Sachs as the best example for institutional capital funding in the United States at the moment.
The audience was given the opportunity for Q&A with the panel. Pretty basic stuff, however, with a contentious few moments arose when the subject of GMO’s was broached. With civility restored by Mr. Royse, the conference recessed and I was able to share a few words with him. He noted, “It went well especially given the cellular-science hub that San Diego is.” The next event will be held over two days in November in Chicago. Let me again consider my good fortune: August in San Diego or Chicago in November? I’m glad I attended this event with swaying palms, warmth and a sunset that only California can bestow. Not a bad gig at all.