Here's Why the CEO of Brooklyn-Based Smallhold Keeps Coming Back to Atlanta
Andrew Carter is Co-Founder and CEO of Smallhold. Smallhold is the first Distributed Farming pioneer, placing connected, autonomous Minifarms throughout the Northeast--each capable of growing between 30 and 120 pounds of produce a week in a footprint the size of a refrigerator. They focus on organic mushroom production, growing hyperlocal food in grocery store produce aisles and restaurant dining rooms.
AGR: Andrew, you’ve been to the AgLanta Conference since its inception. What is it about AgLanta that brings you back each year?
Andrew Carter: Being based in Brooklyn has given Smallhold the opportunity to be exposed to some of the most innovative urban agriculture companies in the world, but we’re fairly isolated from other communities grappling with the same challenges we have in NYC: food security, food distribution, last mile delivery, lack of fresh produce… the list goes on and on..
Atlanta has it all – An amazing food scene paired with a high tech community and a very active startup community, which creates thoughtful dialogue and a great place to think of new ways in growing food in cities. We take every chance we have to listen to other groups changing food production and delivery in their own region, and Aglanta has it all in one place.
How has the conference developed each year? What highlights can you share from years past?
The knowledge base of your average attendee is becoming more and more advanced, allowing for intelligent conversations around packaging, retailing, growing technology, genetics, anything. 3 years ago, all people could talk about were LEDs and the looming stabilization of diode pricing. Now we have real conversations between large seed companies and indoor ag companies about tailored varieties for hydroponic production, for example. The industry is just growing up and has a lot more to talk about than LEDs.
Last year I had the privilege of sharing the Smart Retail stage with Chris Manning, Jeffrey Dorfman, and Judith Winfrey to discuss the future of retail. We had just launched our first Whole Foods in-store mushroom farm and had a lot to discuss with the group. Afterwards I met a commercial mushroom farmer in the hallway, and a future partner outside in front of the food trucks.
You’ve been in the urban ag industry for a while now, have you seen any major shifts in the industry in the last year?
I believe we’re seeing a lot of companies grow up. There is an obvious uptick in financial investment in the space, but I believe we’re starting to see many companies actually go to market to see how well their produce fairs on the shelf with the average consumer. The concept of local food and high density production is a great story, but we’re finally seeing if consumers react to it and will purchase it instead of mass-produced counterparts.
I am excited for the years to come, when local food production truly makes an impact on the produce sector.
What can we expect to hear from you at AgLanta 2019?
Anything you want to hear! We try to lead with a culture of transparency at Smallhold and are happy to talk through approaching mushroom production as a whole or the nitty gritty in building hardware or even exploring innovative customer verticals (like growing food inside of a grocery store). There’s no one way to succeed in farming, especially in cities, and we’d like to tell the world how we’re approaching it.
This year’s theme is “Create, Pilot, Grow,” which represents three stages of developing your own business idea. What advice can you give to entrepreneurs in each step of the process?
I don’t want to spill the beans for the conference, so you’ll have to attend Aglanta to hear my perspective on all of them, but here’s a taste:
Create: The first thing you need to do is jump off the diving board and start working. Most companies fail before they even start due to all the reasons why you can’t do it. If you have an idea you want to test, test it out! Nobody else will do it for you.
Pilot: Be specific about the questions you want to answer with your pilot. Do you want to see if a customer likes a specific mix of greens? Do you want to see if a picker likes to wear a type of harness? It’s too often where people spend all their resources on technology and research that doesn’t actually prove the core questions you need to answer before you grow.
Grow: Find the right partners and be transparent with them. There are certain aspects of your business that you can (and should) keep secret, but if you lead with transparency and trust you will be returned with it tenfold. These relationships are stronger than any legally binding contract and will help you scale drastically.
Meet Andrew Carter at The AgLanta Conference, April 14 & 15 in Atlanta, Georgia! Andrew Carter will be speaking on the panel PILOT | Creative Strategies for Proving Your Concept.
Product/market fit is a crucial yet hard-to-define milestone in the entrepreneurial journey. For most early-stage entrepreneurs, arriving at a proof of concept requires serious creativity on a small budget. On this panel, we’ll explore various strategies that have helped startups get there.