01/06/2018

Abundant Agtech Opportunities

International venture capital firm co-founder outlines challenges for Kiwi businesses.

10 Billion Mouths - Co-hosted by Wharf42, sponsored by Yamaha - Headline event at Techweek Tauranga 18


New Zealand agri-businesses can tap vast resources of international investment funds by keeping up with technology and consumer needs. That’s the word from former Wellingtonian Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner of Finistere Ventures. The company has built and backed businesses worth more than $US 5 billion.  Now based in San Diego, Kukutai spoke at Tauranga’s 10 Billion Mouths event, the headline event during Techweek 2018. He said more capital than ever – around $200 billion – is seeking a home.

But Kukutai said playing on a global scale requires staying ahead of trends. “New Zealand faces headwinds of changing consumer preferences for locally grown. Climate change, land and water use and the withdrawal of the right of agriculture to pollute are all factors.” Kukutai said a massive amount has happened in the agtech space the past several years. “New Zealand is poised to take advantage of the capital that’s available. For the first time, innovation capital for the start-up world equals what’s available to the majors. You have to have the big game in your sights. Agriculture is being redefined.”

Kukutai praised Aotearoa’s speed to grow and change but cautioned against relying on traditional commodities like meat and dairy. He called milk producers fat, happy and complacent. “They’re not on the cutting edge at all. Selling infant formula to China is not innovation. It’s a logical product extension, but not innovation. The opportunity to do more with product investment is huge.” He said government must increase research and development funding, citing statistics showing New Zealand’s level of R&D spending well below OECD averages.

Alternative protein sources are threats and opportunities, said Kukutai, as producers worldwide seek to feed 10 billion people by the year 2050. He encouraged agri-business leaders to embrace new technologies such as artificial intelligence to predict crop growth, and automation to tackle a global labour shortage. He said New Zealand is already a world leader in pasture and grass-based systems and has had horticultural success in high-value ag. ”The use of agtech can help optimise New Zealand farming to be the most sustainable and productive per capita ag-producing nation.”

Kukutai is of Ngati Maniapoto, Tainui and Te Aupouri descent.  He served as Executive Chairman of PKW Farms, a successful agribusiness in Australasia and Asia.  He also led the New Zealand government’s trade and investment agency in North America.

10 Billion Mouths attendee Belinda Allitt travelled from Wagga Wagga, Australia to attend the all-day conference at ASB Arena. The AgriFutures Australia manager says her home country faces similar challenges to New Zealand. “I think there’s a huge opportunity for New Zealand and Australian market startups because we don’t have the large populations in our own countries, so if we can come up with solutions that can tap into broader markets like America, you’ve got a whole new next-level scale of customers available.”

10 Billion Mouths’ primary sponsor was Yamaha; it was organised by Wharf42.

Techweek is New Zealand’s annual festival of innovation which included more than 500 events nationwide from 19-27 May 2018. It featured regional, national and international speakers and companies. This year’s theme: innovation that’s good for the world.

Techweek Tauranga 2018 is curated, coordinated and promoted by Venture Centre.
Venture Centre works to connect people on enterprising journeys - with each other and the mindset, skillset, toolsets, networks and resources they need - to build an ecosystem that delivers real-world, learn-by-doing events, activities, projects and experiences.
Techweek Tauranga 2018  is supported by Tauranga City and Western Bay of Plenty District councils.

Read 1150 times Last modified on 01/06/2018