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AgTech and Logistics Hub’s industry-led approach accelerates innovation

Bridging the gap between industry challenges and problem solvers, the AgTech and Logistics Hub is accelerating Australian agrifood innovation – supporting innovators to fast-track solutions to some of the sector’s biggest challenges. Its Open Innovation Challenge 2 is now open for innovators with solutions to reduce inorganic waste and plastics used in horticulture, and closes on 1 July, 2022. 

Owen Williams, AgTech and Logistics Hub Manager
Photo of Owen Williams, AgTech and Logistics Hub Manager | Words by Casey Dunn

Offering a range of innovation programs, workshops, mentoring and networking events – and even free office space – the AgTech and Logistics Hub provides a platform for innovators, researchers, government and industry to connect, develop and implement real-world tech solutions to industry challenges.  

Led by AgriFood Connect and located within the pioneering AATLIS industrial innovation precinct in Toowoomba, Queensland, the Hub has collaboration at its heart, an ethos that’s reflected in the broad consortium of investment partners – including the Queensland Government, FKG Group, Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise, the University of Southern Queensland, and the University of Queensland – that work together to advance outcomes for farmers.

The AgTech and Logistics Hub Manager, Owen Williams said, “The Hub is about bringing people together to support innovators that we think are going to make a real impact on agriculture in Queensland and beyond.”

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Open Innovation Challenge connects innovators to industry

The Hub’s flagship program is its Open Innovation Challenge, which uses industry challenges as the inspiration for innovation.

“Open Innovation works by uncovering the challenge, and then putting out the call for innovators to solve it,” explained Owen. “No matter where you fit in the innovation space – startup, scale up, researcher, or just someone with an idea – the challenge provides a space for you to get involved in the solution.”  

  • Apply for the AgTech and Logistics Hub Open Innovation Challenge 2: ‘Approaches to solving inorganic waste in the horticulture industry’ here. Applications close on 1 July, 2022. 

The Hub team works with challenge participants to uncover their potential for solving the problem, and help to fill any gaps – in networks, knowledge, or skills – that could hold them back. But its strong relationships with the agricultural sector enables the Hub team to go further in readying a product for market – by validating the tech, and then bringing in industry influencers to see, try and advocate for it. As Owen explained, “The best voice you can have in selling your product is a farmer.”

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“One thing that sets the Hub apart from other programs is its industry-led approach. Industry determines the challenge, identifies opportunities we can work with, and helps validate those solutions. We take these opportunities out to companies that are already diving deep into it. It’s an agile, commercial approach that puts innovation in the hands of farmers sooner,” said Owen.

The Hub’s Open Innovation Challenges run for around three months, but lots of groundwork precedes the call out to innovators. The team works across the innovation sector to unpack what the real challenge is, the landscape around it, the research that’s already been done, and any regulations that impact it. Only once industry has ‘signed off’ on a challenge does the call go out. It’s a huge leg-up for innovators who can rest assured that there is a need, and market, for their solution.

The Hub recently concluded its inaugural Open Innovation Challenge, calling on innovators to accelerate Digitisation and automation of the agricultural supply chain. Opting for a broad challenge theme for Round 1 allowed the Hub to cast the net wide, increasing the number of participants and kickstarting the collaboration and ecosystem-building that’s dear to the Hub’s heart.   

Solutions centred around three themes: supply chain efficiency, transparency and connectivity, with innovations including data analytics; robotics, AI and automation; and real-time traceability with smart tags for both livestock and horticulture. 

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Accelerator program puts solutions in the hands of farmers sooner

Uncovering a solution is one thing. The next step is making that solution a commercial reality. And that’s where the Hub’s Accelerator Program comes in. Owen explained, “The accelerator works with companies that are slightly more mature than what you would see in some accelerators, in that they need to be able to put a product into market. They’ve done their product validation, early market validation, and now they're looking to grow their customer base.” 

He continued, “We identified 10 startups from Challenge Round 1 to participate in our first accelerator. Accessing Queensland’s ag sector is a big opportunity, and the accelerator gives those innovators the chance to use a major asset in Queensland’s agtech ecosystem – the Hub – as a launch pad to propel their growth.”

Entrepreneur in Residence helps get innovators investment-ready 

The Hub doesn’t invest in, take equity from, or charge fees to the companies it supports. “Access to funding can be a real ‘Valley of Death’ for startups,” explained Owen. “Our focus is on helping to bridge that valley by readying startups for investment, then connecting them with investors.”  

Key to that learning process is the Hub’s Entrepreneur in Residence, whose walked the valley before. “They know what investors expect,” said Owen. “Their focus for the Hub is on helping businesses position themselves for investment. It’s a free service, and they do it just because they have a passion for agtech and they want to see those businesses succeed.”

It’s a passion Owen shares. “Their success is my success, but being an entrepreneur can be a tough gig. It takes a lot of energy. The Hub can help muster that energy, by introducing entrepreneurs to people who’ve taken the same journey – who can share what they’ve learned about failure and success. An ecosystem working in that fashion generates positive energy to collaborate and support each other to make a real impact. And it’s really contagious. You want to be part of it.”

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Owen added, "It's been great to leverage growAG. to further amplify the breadth of potential participants who can participate – both for the first challenge and going forward."

Horticulture industry calls on the Hub to solve challenge of plastic waste 

The Hub recently announced the Open Innovation Challenge 2, calling on innovators to help the horticulture sector reduce inorganic waste. The team has been working with industry, including major growers like the Costa Group, to identify on-farm and early supply chain opportunities to cut waste, such as plastic mulch, trickle or drip tapes, and single-use plastics for packaging.

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While innovators with an inorganic waste solution including plastics are encouraged to apply for Round 2, the Hub extends an open invitation for people to be part of the ecosystem – whether it be advising on a challenge or proposing a solution.

“Get in touch so we know what you’re about,” said Owen. “We’ll build a stronger agtech ecosystem, and deliver more for farmers, if we all get to know each other.”

Apply for the AgTech and Logistics Hub’s Open Innovation Challenge 2 here. Applications close on 1 July, 2022. And if you’re interested in attending the 400M Agrifood Innovation Forum 2022, on Wednesday,13 July in Toowoomba, QLD where some of these future solutions will be showcased, you can register here.

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