The American Farm Bureau has announced the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge top ten and from that group the four finalists. Indiana sports a semi-finalist that didn’t make the cut to the final 4. Cherry Brother Designs, LLC of Shelbyville, Indiana, receives the $10,000 semi-finalist award for their farm safety entry of customizable farm and ranch safety plans. The team lead is Tina Cherry (pictured.)
The challenge, now in its second year, provides opportunities for individuals to showcase business innovations being developed in rural regions of the U.S. It is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs working on food and agriculture businesses.
AFBF President Bob Stallman made the announcement at the organization’s October board of directors meeting, noting that four of the top 10 teams are ag technology entries. Lisa Benson is the rural development director for the American Farm Bureau and she says each of the states where the six semi-finalists teams are coming from will host their own event.
“We have a semi-finalist’s team that’s from the Midwest and the state Farm Bureau in that Midwest state will do a presentation locally. So it’s a way that we can connect those semi-finalists’ teams, those rural entrepreneurs, with the great state Farm Bureau networks in their community.”
Benson says the final four teams, chosen from 165 applicants, will each be awarded $15,000 and will advance to the next phase of the challenge.
“The four finalist’s teams will go on and prepare to compete in a live competition. So up to this point all the judging and all the submissions have been online, but in January 2016, the four finalist teams will come to the American Farm Bureau annual convention in Orlando Florida, and they’ll be competing live.”
At the convention the finalists will compete for two additional awards, the $10,000 People’s Choice Award and the $15,000 Rural Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Benson says last year’s winners were able to use the award money to kick-start their businesses.
“So we asked the finalists last year, how did they use their prize money? We had a team that developed a greenhouse; another team developed a prototype for a new ag technology that they were working on. What we found is that a lot of these businesses were able to make those critical investments in infrastructure, or technology or licensing, which helped them go to the next level.”
The final four teams are:
AccuGrain (Rose Hill, Iowa), ag tech entry, X-ray technology to inventory flowing grain in real time. Team lead: Ryan Augustine.
AgriSync (Dallas Center, Iowa), ag tech entry, mobile customer support platform for crop farmers. Team lead: Casey Niemann.
Farm Specific Technology (Bolivar, Tennessee), ag tech entry, no-till crimper for cover crop production. Team lead: Shawn Butler.
Fedora Malthouse (Village of Shepherd, Michigan), value-added processing entry, malted barley production for use by craft beer brewers. Team lead: Julie Baker.
The final four will pitch their business ideas to a team of judges in front of a live audience at AFBF’s 97th Annual Convention and IDEAg Trade Show in January in hopes of winning total prize money of up to $40,000 to implement their ideas.
“The depth and diversity of business ideas in cultivation in rural areas across America is truly inspiring,” Stallman said. “The 10 businesses recognized today are an outstanding group of entrepreneurs,” he continued. “Rural entrepreneurs typically face unique challenges including limited options for support with resources such as startup funding, which we aim to address through the challenge.”
Semi-finalists were awarded $10,000 each, thanks to the generous sponsorship of the Farm Credit Council. The other five are:
Kolb Farms (Cleveland, Wisconsin), farm/ranch entry, grass fed beef marketed direct to consumers. Team lead: Adam Kolb.
Lilac Hedge Farm (Berlin, Massachusetts), farm/ranch entry, pasture-raised beef, pork, lamb and poultry for direct sale to consumers. Team lead: Ryan MacKay.
Pumpkin Vine Creek, LLC (Paint Lick, Kentucky), farm/ranch entry, biodegradable ground covers to protect against soil erosion. Team lead: Robin Mason.
Smiling Hara LLC (Mars Hill, North Carolina), value-added processing entry, soy and soy-free tempeh production and sales. Team lead: McCayne Miller.
Strategic Management of Agriculture Related Technologies, S.M.A.R.T. (Oakland, Nebraska), ag tech entry, water conservation systems for farms and ranches. Team lead: Kurtis Charling.
The top challenge teams were selected by 40 judges with expertise in business development, equity investment fund management, agribusiness lending and entrepreneurial coaching.