The New World of Ag

posted Feb 11, 2015, 11:34 PM by John Selep

February 10, 2015;  Allison Joy, Comstock's magazine

Alvaro Ramirez, a lifelong entrepreneur who cut his teeth during the dotcom boom, recounts a story told to him by a small-scale strawberry farmer on the cusp of losing his farm. Unable to find an ideal buyer, the grower was selling his produce for half of what a distributor turned it around for.

“He didn’t have the network to sell it, to move or to market it,” Ramirez says.

So Ramirez set to work creating eHarvestHub, an online tool that connects growers to transportation and distributors at low cost. Farmers list their produce in a database, which retailers can then access. Once an order is made, eHarvestHub uses what Ramirez calls an “Uber model” to efficiently get product from the farms to the distributors.

“Fresh produce changes hands six to seven times before making it to the store,” Ramirez says. “I think tech can change that, bring things back to where they used to be when the grower picks it and brings it to the store. We can do that with technology.”

Through Ramirez’s eyes, agricultural technology looks a lot more relevant than the latest iPhone app or social networking tool. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, by 2050 the world will need 70 percent more food to feed an additional 2.3 billion people — so we’ll need to get innovative. And the Central Valley, with its rich farmland, ideal climate, access to ag research hub UC Davis and proximity to Silicon Valley capital, is poised to cash in — if we play our cards right.

Some see Sacramento region as agriculture’s Silicon Valley

posted Feb 8, 2015, 12:38 PM by John Selep

February 8, 2015;  Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee

When it comes to attracting venture capital from the Silicon Valley, the Sacramento region has had limited success over the decades. But that may be changing as investors increasingly focus on food.

Millions of dollars have flowed east in the past year into food technology startups working in the Sacramento region and the Central Valley, said people involved in the effort to establish Sacramento as a hub for food research and policy. At the same time, UC Davis is pursuing plans to build a World Food Center in Sacramento, perhaps in the downtown railyard. That center is envisioned as a place where food science, policy and innovation will come together.

“We’re seeing new interest in agriculture technology and food biotechnology from venture capitalists who have previously specialized in IT or clean technology,” UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in an email interview. “The next step is to bridge the gap from interest to actual investment, and the World Food Center is working to accomplish just that.”

On Wednesday, the man brought from Phoenix to head a new regional business recruitment organization founded by area CEOs singled out food technology as one sector in which Sacramento could stake its claim. “We can build a brand around that,” said Barry Broome, chief executive of the Greater Sacramento Area Technology Council.

The Sacramento region has long struggled to nurture tech startups and keep them here. Fledgling companies frequently move to the Bay Area, citing the need to be close to funders. The region currently ranks 50th out 160 metropolitan areas in venture capital investment, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

“We’re clearly punching well below our weight class,” said John Selep, managing partner with the Davis-based AgTech Innovation Fund. “We can do far, far better.”

Labor costs drive the future of farming: Robots

posted Feb 8, 2015, 12:31 PM by John Selep

January 30, 2015;  Mark Anderson, Staff Writer - Sacramento Business Journal

Two efforts are underway locally to help automate farming operations. A group of researchers in Davis is developing a robot to help kill weeds. And an Australian company is building an automated olive press in Woodland that will produce olive oil more quickly and with less labor than other presses in the area.

Increased automation has been a goal of agricultural innovation for years. It's faster and less expensive than manual labor, which currently is in short supply.

Tougher immigration laws and an improving economy in Mexico have resulted in fewer immigrant farmworkers in California. That poses a labor problem for an industry that has long relied on immigrant workers.

"The long-term picture is not a pretty one," said John Selep, managing partner of AgTech Innovation Fund in Davis. "This is an increasingly critical issue."

Guest Blog - How Investors Make Better Decisions

posted Jul 1, 2014, 11:02 AM by John Selep

Posted on July 1, 2014 by steveblank at

Investors sitting through Incubator or Accelerator demo days have three metrics to judge fledgling startups – 1) great looking product demos, 2) compelling PowerPoint slides, and 3) a world-class team.  Other than “I’ll know it when I see it”, there’s no formal way for an investor to assess project maturity or quantify risks. Other than measuring engineering progress, there’s no standard language to communicate progress.

What’s been missing for everyone is:
  • a common language for investors to communicate objectives to startups
  • a language corporate innovation groups can use to communicate to business units and finance
  • data that investors, accelerators and incubators can use to inform selection
Teams can prove their competence and validate their ideas by showing investors evidence that there’s a repeatable and scalable business model. While it doesn’t eliminate great investor judgment, pattern recognition skills and mentoring, we’ve developed an Investment Readiness Level tool that fills in these missing pieces. Background about the Investment Readiness Level  here and here.

While the posts were theory I was a bit surprised when John Selep, an early-stage investor, approached me and said he was actually using the Investment Readiness Level (IRL) in practice.

Here’s John’s story.

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