Ask An Expert: Risk Management in Ag Tech

Alison Sunstrum, founder and CEO of CNSRV-X, has outlined the best practices of risk management within the ag tech industry.

Speaking to moderator Marty Seymour, director of industry and Stakeholder Relations at Farm Credit Canada as part of Valhalla Private Capital’s “Ask An Expert” series, Alison maintained thatfarmers are different than other folks” in their approach to working with angels.

“If you’re an angel, you like risk. There’s just no doubt about that,” she began, warning that people who work in agriculture have different profit drivers than in other sectors.

She continued: “Farmers are preserving their land for the next generation, so the way they look at things might be a little bit different. 

“I’ve never seen more passionate, mission driven entrepreneurs than those in agriculture,” Alison added, emphasizing the efforts of those who work across alternative products including alternative proteins and meats.

The founder of CNSRV-X – a company which researches and applies emerging tech in agriculture – also remarked that long investment cycles in agriculture (driven by the biological factors of breeding) can “scare” an average angel and deter them from investing. 

“If you invest in livestock you have a quicker turnaround on the end product, but it takes you at least two years to shift your breeding program (if not longer), so you might only have about 15 times in your whole operation to shift,” she concluded.

“Farmers, in general, are willing to try things”

Likewise Remi Schmalz, director of North American Business Development at TELUS Agriculture, acknowledged that “things don’t happen super fast in agriculture”, which has prompted an emphasis on trust between entrepreneurs and angel investors.

On the topic, he explained: “If you’re [meeting with a farmer], you’re not doing that over the internet, more than likely – it’s a face to face meeting on a farm. 

“It’s going to take time to build that relationship because you have a significant impact,” he continued, comparing the fine-tuning of “manufacturing widgets every second” to the risk of growing one crop a year.

This risk, Remi elaborated, is compounded by factors such as weather and soil which are “uncontrollable by humans and volatile”.

“The largest living organism on earth is the soil, and I can tell you that we know very little about it,” he added, encouraging Valhalla Private Capital’s attendees to seek out “deep domain knowledge” if they are interested in ag tech.

Attendees were also urged to evaluate previous farm customers, references and a prototype of products before investing in the space.

Remi concluded: “Farmers, in general, are willing to try things. 

“They’re very entrepreneurial, they’ve created a lot of technology that’s used on the farm. but they’re also pretty upfront about whether these things are working or not.”

Do you have a question about angel investing? Get in touch with Valhalla Private Capital via our contact page.

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