Global collaboration needed to drive Australian agrifood innovation
AgriFutures Australia Managing Director, John Harvey shares his vision for Australian agrifood tech innovation and why global collaboration is needed to continue driving commercialisation of homegrown R&D and global partnerships. Here he speaks with Australian agritech entrepreneur and BDO AgTech Lead, Michael Macolino, about evokeAG. and new platform – growAG. to help accelerate the innovation pathway.
“It has been a really fascinating year. It’d be an understatement to say it’s been a tough year,” said AgriFutures Australia Managing Director, John Harvey.
At Adelaide’s impact and innovation festival, Southstart in May 2021, John Harvey caught up with agritech entrepreneur and BDO AgTech Lead, Michael Macolino, to reflect on the approach needed to accelerate the Australian agritech ecosystem in response to COVID-19.
Just two weeks prior to Australia closing its international borders in 2020, AgriFutures hosted its second annual evokeAG. event. Despite its infancy, John explains, “We’d created enormous interest – and we tapped into incredible energy in Australia around agrifood tech, which was very exciting.”
“We were very much trying to build the ecosystem in Australia, promote and encourage deal flow and encourage investment from overseas. We had something like $4 billion worth of managed capital in the room at the last evokeAG. event – and there were lots of deals done.”
But as border closures and travel restrictions became the new norm, face-to-face events and the scale of evokeAG. needed to be reimagined. The challenge for AgriFutures was not losing the interest and momentum created at the event but making sure those conversations, connections and investment continued.
John explained, “We really saw an opportunity to create a 365-day-a-year platform – which is growAG.com.”
A sense of excitement is felt throughout John and Michael’s conversation, as they explore how we can use platforms like growAG. to position Australia as the agrifood tech hub of the Southern Hemisphere.
Telling the world, ‘We’re open for business’
A collaboration between the Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment and Australia’s 15 Research & Development Corporations (the ‘RDCs’), growAG. is a world-first innovation platform which showcases Australia’s world-leading agricultural research, unique technologies and commercialisation opportunities – all in one place.
“The idea is to build collaborations, build partnerships, build commercial investments and opportunities, and create transparency.”
While still in its infancy, growAG. is providing greater visibility of Australia’s thriving agrifood tech sector, and helping prospective investors to see value in partnering with Australian innovators.
With all hands on deck to collate and showcase RDC innovations, John is already looking ahead. “Our next step now is to broaden that out to universities, to state departments, to CSIRO – to get the whole ecosystem online.”
Shifting the focus from research to commercialisation – with a global market in mind
Australia’s research is renowned as world-class, but in order to attract global investment, John believes there is a need for increased commercialisation of research outcomes and bringing commercial partners in earlier to solve industry challenges.
“We’ve got to build that commercial ecosystem that goes on the back of that [Australian R&D] and starts driving that research agenda. One of the keys is actually getting people skilled and experienced at actually investing in agrifood tech – and building the links internationally. If we’ve got a good ecosystem here that is strong and people trust, then some of the bigger [venture capital] funds are then going to be prepared to consider putting their money in.”
While thinking globally is fundamental for growth, John is passionate about fostering an ecosystem that supports Australian agrifood tech startups to stay in Australia. “We want to make it a place where they [startups and scale-ups] want to have as their head office forever, and exporting their technology to the rest of the world.”
“We’re very much with a global context, a global market mind – but wouldn’t it be nice if we had a system where [startups are] Australian-grown, stay in Australia and build the ecosystem [here] to drive the innovation agenda?”
Connecting the Australian agrifood tech ecosystem to the rest of the world
The beneficial “flipside”, as Michael calls it, of showcasing our agrifood tech ecosystem to the world, is the growing international enthusiasm about Australia’s appetite for innovation, as more offshore companies seek to bring their tech solutions here.
To John, the growing interest in Australia’s ecosystem is entirely expected. “We’ve got great farmers; we’ve got great researchers and we’ve got this amazing environment and a diversity [of] production systems in Australia. We can thoroughly test technology, regardless of where it [has been] developed around the world. We could be a testbed for all these innovations and, if we are, then our farmers will be the first in the world to get access.”
“There’s a number of things coming together which, I think, could position us [Australia] as the agrifood tech hub of the Southern Hemisphere – which is where we need to be.”
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