Growing a Global Movement at NYC AgTech Week 2019

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After 6 days, 15 events, and more than 50 speakers, NYC AgTech Week 2019 has come to a close. Having helped produce AgTech Week for the last several years, Agritecture feels it has a pretty good sense of why more and more people from around the world flock to New York City for this annual event series. But we wanted to hear participants explain in their own words — so we reached out to some of our all-star attendees for commentary.

First, Some Background

Agritecture attends a lot of industry events, many of which we find valuable for our own business development needs. But we also talk to tons of industry newcomers — from passionate students hungry for an entry-level job, to investors eyeing the agtech space for the first time, to talented professionals seeking a career change — who find these types of events difficult to navigate and gain real value from. 

So with this audience in mind, and leaning on help from the rest of the NYC Agriculture Collective, we re-engineered the typical agtech conference to focus on:

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  1. Exploration: of this city we continue to find inspiration from. Rather than sit around the same convention center for days, attendees ventured out to more than 20 different venues around New York, including 9 urban farms and community gardens combined.

  2. Diversity: of people, ideas, and approaches. 54% of our speakers were female and 25% POC. Attendees saw examples of soil-based community gardens; a rooftop soil farm; an outdoor aquaponics farm; plus several indoor hydroponics and vertical farms. They were pushed to think critically about the challenges and opportunities of all.

  3. Access: often defined by price point — our unique approach allowed us to keep costs lower and charge a fraction of the industry norm at $450 for All-Access passes. Partnering with Cornell University and Urban Farm Academy gave us the ability to offer free entry for farmers to two of our larger events. But we also consider access to speakers and thought leaders an important component — ensuring they are available to interact with attendees rather than hiding them away backstage.

In Their Own Words

In total, All-Access attendees came from 13 countries — a number the Ag Collective aims to increase each year — with 60% coming from outside the NYC metro area. We asked participants from near and far about their expectations for the week and their major takeaways. Here’s some of what we heard:

Why attend NYC AgTech Week?

“The New York metro area has a high density of urban farms that differ significantly in their product offerings and technologies...my expectation was that AgTech Week would leverage this to provide unique opportunities to network and better understand what's going on at the industry's frontier.” 

-Matthew Gellert, Founder & CEO, Craft Cultivation

“With a degree in mathematics and a strong interest in sustainability, AgTech Week offered me connections to people who shared my views and were deeply involved in the field. I have more to learn but realized how I can contribute to the field of urban agriculture.”

-Megan Frey, Assistant Controller, Harbor Financial Management

“The opportunity to meet with people and organizations across the Agriculture life cycle. The ability to discuss the challenges, solutions and future possibilities and partnerships with the attendees.” 

-Joyce Hunter, CEO, Vulcan Enterprises

“To experience and learn from a range of projects and practitioners.” 

-Dermot O’Regan, Founder & CEO, Grow Bristol

“To bridge the knowledge gap between Europe and the US.” 

-Wissam Farah, Kroptek Ltd.

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What did you walk away with?

“The policies from the city regarding urban green spaces and gardens… It’s crazy how big of an impact politics plays.” 

-Olivia English, Founder, LivegreenKC

“The biggest eye-opener is the importance of the operations manager in an urban farm, to help cater for the complexities of a controlled environment and the unpredictable nature of growing various types of crops.” 

-Wissam Farah

“I am compelled more than ever to understand the sustainability of urban farming technologies so that the industry can more readily address this in the design and development of future farms.” 

-Matthew Gellert

“Building a network of world-class people who all share the same goals for the sustainability and health of our planet is the most impactful part of AgTech Week.” 

-Jeff Bednar, Founder, Profound Microfarms & Profound Foods

“It was humbling to see the variety of approaches being made by entrepreneurs in NYC. Despite these diverse solutions, we shared a room and a common goal... I learned most of all that I’m not alone.” 

-Megan Frey

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Where did we succeed?

  • Attendees highlighted the diversity of speakers, venues, and approaches to urban farming as a major positive.

  • Most attendees found the greatest value in the networking and the deep relationships formed with other participants over the course of the week.

  • 94% of attendees indicated interest in attending AgTech Week 2020!

Where did we miss?

  • Many attendees highlighted the desire to hear more from local policymakers.

  • Industry insiders wanted more technical insights — either from a deeper set of questions asked to panelists or via specific workshops on certain subjects.

  • In an effort to make sure everyone was well-fed, we overshot, resulting in excess food at a couple of venues without a firm plan to properly deal with that surplus. Next year, we’ll assign one person to own the waste prevention, food rescue, and compost at every event.

Announcements

A number of announcements were also made during AgTech Week.

At the AgTech x UrbanTech Mixer, co-organized with The Grid, Amanda Weeks announced a rebranding of Industrial/Organic, the upcycled food waste startup she co-founded in 2014. Look out for Ambrosia — coming soon. Tobias Peggs, CEO of Square Roots, previewed the launch of the startup’s second farming site, in Michigan. 

Cait Shubick also spoke at the event, highlighting urban agriculture’s potential for positive social impact as a reason why New Lab — an innovation hub in Brooklyn supporting more than 130 startups — is starting to work in this sector. “New York City has shown strong support for urban agriculture work, and with its already thriving and innovative agtech community, we believe the City is poised to emerge as a leader in the agtech revolution and serve as a model for other cities,” said Shubick.

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This point was exemplified at the Future of Farming Pitch Contest, co-organized with Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, via pitches from five impact-driven agtech startups. FoodFul, which has built an IoT solution for dairy farms, won a handful of prizes including $5,000 in cash. Other pitches came from NATIVE AgTech (supply chain software); WeRadiate (IoT for compost); FoodCycle (upcycled livestock feed from food waste); and GrowSquares (tech-enabled urban gardening solution).

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Finally, attendees at a panel on Opportunities & Challenges Scaling AgTech around the World heard Agritecture founder Henry Gordon-Smith announce the pending launch of Agritecture Designer — the company’s first digital product. Corinna Baban also utilized the panel to announce the US launch of Agreeta to the world — an end-to-end integrated technology platform for the entire “farm to fork” value chain. You can watch the full recording of that panel here, which includes additional insights from speakers Dermot O’Regan of Grow Bristol and Louisa Burwood-Taylor of AgFunder.

The Way Forward

At Agritecture, we’re seeing more and more local communities convene around the topic of urban agriculture in cities across the globe. We’re proud that New York has been able to serve as a beacon for many of these newer communities and honored to play our role in showcasing what makes the ecosystem here so special — knowing that we still have lots more work to do. But we’re equally excited that each year we’re seeing a larger turnout, a more diverse and international set of attendees, and the lines between “host” and “participant” blur. We can’t wait for NYC AgTech Week 2020 — but we’re also preparing for the year that “NYC” is just one of many hosts of AgTech Weeks, in cities around the world.

Agritecture is involved in a number of agtech-related events globally, including GFIA Abu Dhabi and GFIA Toronto in 2020.

Talk to us about strategic opportunities to get your company involved.