Tortuga AgTech, a robotic harvesting and precision agriculture company from Lakewood, Colo., was the judge's top pick in the Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association's (CFVGA) Tech Pitch. The competition, which featured four of the best applicants from a field of highly qualified companies, was the culminating event last week at CFVGA's Fourth Annual Conference, attended by some 300 growers, allied industries and other produce enthusiasts. Coming in first by audience vote was Augean Robotics, Phoenixville, Penn., whose presentation awed viewers with video of a robotic harvest cart that follows a harvester, hauls product to a drop off point and returns to the harvester on its own.
"It was inspiring to see veteran Colorado agriculture leaders and new companies making connections, talking about the issues agriculture faces, and sharing ideas," said Eric Adamson, Tortuga AgTech. "We had met with a handful of Colorado growers in the past, but we never had the chance before to connect with our own local ag industry in such a concentrated and powerful forum. The CFVGA conference was a great way to start building more local relationships and learning from passionate agriculture leaders here in our backyard, as well as leaders from the broader Western Growers Association."
Also participating in the Tech Pitch were two additional finalists: Visugen, a Denver. Colo., company that has created early detection, on-site water monitoring to comply with FDA regulations; and Impello, a company producing Tribus™, liquid plant-growth promoting rhizobacteria that may also reduce Listeria, that hails from Fort Collins, Colo. All four finalists received an annual CFVGA membership and free booth at the two-day conference.
In addition, Tortuga AgTech was awarded services from Western Growers Innovation Center and $3,000 in legal services from Faegre Baker Daniels. Augean also will receive services from Western Growers Innovation Center and $2,000 in legal services from Faegre Baker Daniels.
Beyond the tangible awards, participants were excited about the connections made with other tech companies, possible investors and growers. The experience also gave some pitchers ideas to refine their technologies and/or business models going forward.
"We learned a lot, both about our potential customers and our plans," said Charlie Andersen, Augean Robotics. "It was suggested at the pitch that we should think about a leasing model for early robots, to de-risk the technology for farmers, and that we should explore some other uses and expansion kits/capabilities. Additionally, we ran into several farmers who had other ideas for what they might do with our robot - we found, for instance, that when farmers go to repair pivot irrigation systems they often must carry replacement parts by hand up to half a mile up/down rows of corn. A robot like ours that can follow you like a dog and run routes back autonomously could be quite helpful in this burdensome task that we had no idea existed."
Judging the Tech Pitch were Hank Giglas, Western Growers Innovation Center, Salinas, Calif., Bruce Talbott, Talbott's Mountain Gold, Palisade, Colo., Jeni Lamb Rogers, attorney with Faegre Baker Daniels, Denver, Colo., Mark Loch, Blackhorn Ventures, Boulder, Colo.; and Anne Misak, Colorado Enterprise Fund, Denver, Colo.
The Colorado fruit and vegetable growing sector contributes nearly $300 million to Colorado at the farm gate and is multiplied as it goes through the distribution chain. Over 60,000 Colorado acres are in fruit and vegetable production. Learn more https://coloradoproduce.org