Fresh fund for start-ups bolsters NZ focus on agritech

One firm, LIC, is actively on the hunt for biotech-orientated technology innovators.

Artificial Intelligence robotic in wheat field

Agriculture technology has become a major focus for New Zealand government agencies charged with boosting economic development through innovation—in Budget 2020, the sector was allocated $11.4 million to assist in the roll-out of a dedicated Industry Transformation Plan.

According to the TIN200 (Technology Investment Network), the top 20 agritech (also called ‘agtech’) export companies earned a combined $1.4 billion in 2019, and the sector is dominated by high-tech manufacturing companies such as Gallagher Group (animal management) and Compaq (sorting and automation).

Looking to shift that mix in favour of more biotech solutions is LIC (Livestock Improvement Company), an agritech and herd improvement cooperative with more than 10,500 dairy farmer shareholder owners. It has just announced a new investment fund, the AgCelerator Fund, targeted at early-stage start-ups creating solutions for the dairy industry. This includes improving animal health, diagnostic tools and advancements in breeding techniques.

LIC corporate development manager Eleshea D’Souza, who is overseeing the fund, says its involvement as a corporate partner in the agritech accelerator Sprout has exposed it to the start-up scene.

LIC invested $16 million in research and development last year, and while it has its own in-house capability, it also recognises the importance of looking to external parties, she says. “Innovation doesn’t just come internally from organisations, it comes from both inside the walls and outside. If you are working in a different industry, for example, you might realise something works in dairy that we might not even have thought of. That’s the cool thing about innovation, there’s always newer and better ways to do things.”

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