Ag Tech Startups Highlighted In Nationwide Bus Tour

Zack James, founder of Rabbit Tractors, shows his innovation to AOL co-founder Steve Case ( Margy Eckelkamp )

In early May, the Rise of the Rest bus tour made Memphis its 35th stop. This tour is organized by Revolution, which is a firm led by America Online co-founder Steve Case, and the tour aims to highlight entrepreneurs and startups across the U.S.

As Case explains, last year 75% of venture capital invested in the U.S. was concentrated in just three states: New York, California and Massachusetts. He sees a bigger (and missed) opportunity.

“It’s important we create pathways for entrepreneurship for everywhere in the country,” Case says. “The U.S. continues to be the most entrepreneurial nation in the world, but it matters where you live. We want to get everyone on the playing field.”

For job growth, Case points to data that show net new jobs come from startups and supporting startups is a way to create opportunities for people to stay in small to medium cities across the country.

“These startups are swinging for the fences, while many large businesses are being defensive,” Case said. “Half of large companies won’t be here in Memphis in 25 years. Supporting entrepreneurs is like planting seed corn. Some of it will die, but some will emerge as the Fortune 500 companies of tomorrow.”

The field day, which was one stop of many across Memphis, was hosted at the AgriCenter International in Memphis and two startups part of the AgLaunch accelerator were highlighted—Rantizo and Rabbit Tractor.

“We think there’s going to be a revolution in food and agriculture thanks to technology,” Case said. “It’s important to know that 250 years ago, 90% of the economy in the U.S. was based on agriculture. We went from an agrarian economy to an industrialized economy to a digital economy. And there’s huge potential for ag in the third wave of technology. In many ways farmers are the original innovators in this country.”

Case and J.D. Vance, another investor in Revolution as well as author of Hillbilly Elegy, asked the entrepreneurs questions, which included what types of farms their technologies targeted; how easy would it be for farmers to use their products; and what their biggest challenges were.

Rantizo is a drone-based application technology. Rabbit Tractor is a startup focusing on automated ag vehicles.

“For 60 years our industry has grown more productive by thinking bigger and getting bigger,” said Pete Nelson, director of AgLaunch. “Now it’s time to go the other way.”

In a one-on-one interview, Farm Journal asked Case that as farmers are exposed to more and more technology, how should they focus to be able to keep up with the needed technology. And he said, “Lean in. Farmers should figure out what technology can help them on their farm because we need farmers to be innovative to grow more food at affordable prices and be profitable.”

Case has also been an advocate for nationwide high-speed internet initiatives. In a 2016 Federal Communications Commission report, almost 40% of rural residents do not have access to broadband.

He told Time magazine, “Building high-speed fiber networks nationwide will not only democratize Internet access, bringing affordable connections to rural and underserved areas, but also foster the economic development of cities and unleash enormous innovation. Faster Internet speeds and capacity will give engineers and entrepreneurs in cities across the country—not just in Silicon Valley and New York City—the edge they need to solve real-world problems and compete in the global economy.”