Ag tech

VC Sarah Nolet on the lessons for agritech from evokeAG

- February 27, 2023 3 MIN READ
EvokeAG young leaders
The 2023 Future Young Leaders at evokeAG. Photo: Sarah Nolet
After three long years, evokeAG finally returned, bringing the Australian agri-food tech industry together.

We loved meeting and reconnecting with friends and collaborators over the past few engaging, thought-provoking, and exhausting (in the best way possible) days.

‍evokeAG also provided an opportunity to reflect on what we, as an industry, have collectively achieved so far, and to get inspired about the opportunities – and work – that lie ahead.

Here are my key takeaways.

A thriving, but not yet complete, ecosystem

Looking back even five or six years ago, our agri-food tech ecosystem was nascent and fragmented. Walking around evokeAG, though, you wouldn’t know it. The caliber of the event, the humans in attendance, and the innovations on display show how the ecosystem has rapidly and truly matured.

A key signal for me was the presence of international investors. This reflects what we see happening in the investment landscape more broadly: Aussie agrifood tech startups are attracting international investors and expanding to global markets. This underscores our unwavering conviction that Australia is a great launchpad for world-changing innovations in food and agriculture.

EvokeAG panel

Matthew on a panel discussing global investing in agtech alongside Victor Friedberg (FoodShot Global, USA), Adam Anders (Anterra Capital, Netherlands), Anuj Maheshwari (Temasek, Singapore), and Ethy Levy (Kinneret Impact Ventures, Israel) Photo: Sarah Nolet

But it’s also important that we acknowledge who wasn’t in the room: the commercial teams from many food and agribusiness corporates. These groups up and downstream of the farm are critical in incentivising adoption and unlocking implementation at scale. While they used to have to go offshore to procure innovation or seek inspiration, that’s no longer true, and we need them involved.

Agri-food tech is about more than agri-food

Much of the conversation focused on the lessons we’ve learned in facing recent global challenges – from COVID to supply chain disruptions and conflict– and how we can build resilience into the future as climate challenges loom large.

Protecting Australia’s export-oriented production economy through the adoption of innovation is indeed a huge opportunity. And we will increasingly need technologies that can enable sustainable practices on farms, provide an evidence base to support competitive differentiation in global markets, and drive resilience across the sector.

EvokeAG's Startup Alley

Startup Alley featured 40 local and global agrifood tech startups. Photo: Sarah Nolet

But, if we continue to focus only on technology as an enabler of more & better agri-food production, we are missing out on a massive, parallel opportunity. The agri-food innovation system itself has huge economic potential. And this economy is not susceptible to the same pressures that our production economy faces. Even when our ability to export physical produce has been hampered by border closures and supply chain disruptions, Australian agri-food tech startups–from AgriWebb to FluroSat (now Regrow) and more–continue to create jobs and export their solutions to the world. We must focus on growing and exporting our knowledge economy, as well as our produce.

We must collaborate, but not get complacent

When the Future Young Leaders, a highlight of evokeAG, were invited on stage to close the conference with reflections on their big takeaways, the most common theme was collaboration. And it was great to see the ecosystem looking beyond its own boundaries this year by seeking out learnings and opportunities for collaboration, most notably with the focus on space-tech.

This “a rising tide lifts all boats” sentiment has been so core to the grassroots, enthusiasm-fueled efforts that have built our agri-food tech ecosystem.

But we must not let our commitment to collaboration lure us into the comfort of an echochamber or tempt us into cordial complacency.

This means bringing along not just those operating at the cutting edge, but also those who are skeptical. It means digging into the nuances of the very complex problems we are facing. It means having the courage to speak out when we disagree with a view point; and when someone challenges us, having the humility to listen and engage. More change and challenges lie ahead of us, let’s be ready.

evokeAG 2024 in Melbourne, here we come!

This year’s evokeAG demonstrated how far we’ve come as an ecosystem. It hasn’t been easy, and it’s worth being proud of. But Australia, despite its massive potential, is still a small blip on the global agri-food tech map. A mere 0.86% of global agri-food tech funding in 2022.

Tenacious Ventures portfolio founders

The Tenacious Ventures team and our portfolio founders

This week, we bask in the good vibes of reconnecting with colleagues and forming new world-changing partnerships. Next week, it’s back to work. Australian agriculture has a global reputation for being tough, so we know that our agri-food tech ecosystem is up for the challenge.

  • Sarah Nolet is co-founder and General Partner at Tenacious Ventures, and host of the Agtech…So What? podcast. She serves on the Steering Committee for evokeAG, and was a founding council member of the Australia New Zealand AgriTech Council and Australian Agritech Association.