By Andrew Joseph, Farms.com
Launched this summer of 2021, Conexus Venture Capital Inc. has raised an initial $45-million in monies for its Emmertech Venture Capital Funds in an effort to provide financial resources to Canadian innovators in the agtech and agribusiness industry.
Owing to a lack of capital funding from within Canada, Conexus cited a brain-drain of Canadian talent taking their innovative concepts and ideas to other countries such as the U.S., Israel and the Netherlands who have the money and want to invest, taking jobs, economic growth and intellectual property with them.
Farms.com talked with Sean O’Connor, Managing Director with Conexus, who said that “Agtech is completely different from other types of tech. A farmer really only has about 40 seasons to work with, and all of their investment is out back.”
The implication here is that whenever a new innovative technology is created, there is little time to bring it to market, meaning it is often rushed—with farmers forced to play the role of guinea pig as developers beta test the tech.
“But we aren’t doing that,” explained O’Connor. “We will ensure that the product, the technology, whatever it is, is ready for use—we want the ag community to be able to use it without worrying about it because it has been developed and built properly.
O’Connor said that despite a history of innovation, most of the machinery on Canadian farms—nearly 70-percent—are from other countries.
It was also noted that most of our agriculture products are shipped raw from Canada to international destinations because we lack the infrastructure to produce a finished product that could itself be sold for higher profit internationally.
According to Conexus, a key challenge to growing Canadian agtech is the lack of private capital that flows into the space, with Canada’s share of global agtech investments a mundane 3.4-percent. As well, it stated, only 11-percent of Canadian agriculture research and development is derived from privately funded sources.
Built via an industry-first approach, Conexus said it expects Emmertech (“emmer” is borrowed from Canada’s wheat heritage) to pass the $60-million mark by the end of this year. “The cool part of our fund,” said O’Connor, “is that we are built by our industry, with over 40 investors so far.”
O’Connor wanted to make it clear that neither the Emmertech fund nor Conexus wants to take or own a founder/innovator’s intellectual property—that it is an investment.
“While we certainly will work with founders who have their own “company” ideas and already have some investment in the pipeline, we also want founders who have an idea but lack the financials to progress—that’s where we can invest and direct,” acknowledged O’Connor.
“In building Emmertech, we felt there needed to be a different approach to agtech investing in Canada. As a starting point, we’ve built the fund from the ground up, engaging critical stakeholders across the entire agriculture supply chain as investors in the fund to actively work with our team and portfolio founders. This gives us the advantage of understanding the challenges and needs of the industry and provide the support they need to help take their startup to the next level as quickly as possible,” said O’Connor. “The Canadian venture capital playbook doesn’t work within the agtech industry as it does other industries, so we’ve thrown it out and are building our approach that can create highly reliable technology products ready for commercialization in one of the most important industries in the world.”
Via Emmertech, Conexus is confident that Canada can utilize its status as a country of innovators, combined with the seventh-most arable land in the world, to catalyze the agtech ecosystem. Over the next 10 years, Emmertech said it would invest in a diversified portfolio of Canadian-based agtech companies.
“The next leap in agriculture will require advanced digital tools to enhance productivity and efficiency while being mindful of ever-growing environmental and social considerations,” said O’Connor. “Emmertech will empower entrepreneurs to lead this evolution, harness data and connectivity, and emerge technologies to positively transform agriculture and the environment for decades to come.”
O’Connor said that Conexus is excited to “take our strong ag industry and our innovation sector and marry them to create a new sector.” Agtech and clean tech sectors “will help a farmer increase yields and reduce inputs to be more efficient,” he cited as an example.
“We talk to farmers and agronomists before we do an investment,” summed up O’Connor, “because our investment is for the farmer—and it doesn’t matter if it’s a small farmer with 2-4,00 acres or someone with less or more. For me, I need to know what the farmers actually want, and to their credit, they tell you exactly what they want.”
Founded in 2019 by Saskatchewan-based Conexus Credit Union, Conexus Venture Capital Inc. invests time, knowledge and capital in Saskatchewan and Canadian high-growth start-ups to fuel growth in the local innovation economy. To learn more about Emmertech, visit www.emmertech.ca.
For more information about Conexus Venture Capital Inc., visit www.Conexus.ca.
Photo by John McArthur on Unsplash