17. July 2020
Knowledge transfer between field and study
Farm & Food cooperates with the Campus Soest
Now that the Bodenschmiede-competition has successfully ended, Farm & Food is continuing to work on expanding its network: In order to do justice to the ideas submitted and to Farm & Food’s own claim to facilitate a constant transfer of knowledge between the stakeholders in the Farm to Fork-chain. Farm & Food is now cooperating with the Soest Campus of the University of Applied Sciences Südwestfalen in a research project on start-ups in agriculture.
By Sarah Liebigt
The focus of Farm & Food’s work (in addition to event organisation) is the transfer of knowledge: from field to lecture hall, from lecture hall to start-up office, from there back to the field – and vice versa. Between April and June 2020 and in cooperation with the Weihenstephan Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences and HORSCH Maschinen, we looked for new ideas and projects for agriculture of the future. The competition invited farmers, start-ups and above all universities. The Bodenschmiede-competition ended (for now) in a live video-pitch, that took place online.
“With Bodenschmiede we want to turn the visions of students, start-ups and farmers into reality”, says Matthias Lech, Project Lead of Farm & Food. “Together with strong partners, we want to bring innovations on and into the soil. The Bodenschmiede is the right platform for this”. Farm & Food is continuously developing its structure, which is based on cooperation and knowledge transfer, to finally create a functioning Agtech ecosystem that enables all players to take the best possible action.
The number of applications to the competition as well as the high number of participants in the Bodenschmiede live pitch in June showed that the issue is also of interest in times of media overload. We are therefore pleased to have established a new cooperation from the Bodenschmiede: With the campus Soest of the FH Südwestfahlen.
Matthias Lech: “The accompaniment of a research project and the cooperation with Soest are perfectly suited to ask the right questions with the scientific view from outside. When research institutions make their knowledge and skills available, everyone benefits in the end.”
The agricultural sector attracts young entrepreneurs and developers like no other. However, the lack of funding in Germany makes life difficult for innovators. There is a lack of capital, investors, partnerships, and networks. Germany lacks follow-up funding for start-ups, says Katrin Jakob, founder of the California Business Associations (CBA), for example. Local companies must also understand that the financing cycle involves the sale of a start-up, not its growth and long-term development by the founders themselves.
The Agtech ecosystem needs to be promoted – and constantly evaluated – if it is to be successfully developed further in this country. Farm & Food has already organized workshops on this topic in the past and made it the focus of this year’s congress.
Symbiosis of industry, network, and research
In Germany, too, the start-up landscape already consisted of a number of densely populated islands, which offered hardly any space for newcomers and attracted all attention with their high lighthouses – not always justified. This is how Lech describes the start-up scene in the AgriFood business. “I am therefore very satisfied and optimistic that with Farm & Food as an Innovators Network we can work here in terms of knowledge transfer and enrich the landscape.
Such a symbiosis of industry, network and research does not exist so far, Lech states. “One can be curious to see how things will continue. This is just the beginning.”
“Especially in the agricultural sector we see an enormous potential for action, which can be exploited by start-ups among other things”, says Sibylle Gerlach. Gerlach is doing his doctorate at the FH Südwestfalen in Soest in the Department of Agricultural Economics under the supervision of Professor Dr. Jan-Henning Feil. In this department, the research project is organised and supervised with the aim of identifying success factors for start-ups in the agricultural sector.
“Agriculture and the related sectors have been facing enormous challenges for some time now: Climate change, social acceptance, increasing world population, environmental protection – to name but a few on a global and national level”.
“To meet these challenges, we are convinced that new ideas are needed, which must then be translated into entrepreneurial activity. Start-ups are the best people to talk to in this respect, because they often think laterally and question the existing more than the established company usually does.
The research project focuses on different questions: What does it take to be a successful start-up? What must the framework conditions look like? Can politics, universities, associations, etc. create the framework conditions for a successful start-up and thus influence the course of a young company?
To this extent, start-ups and the start-up landscape are a relatively young “industry”. Making it the subject of research is therefore not necessarily obvious. First, Gerlach says that the topic is incredibly present at the moment. “The trade journals report on it, the agricultural associations and groups are beginning to advocate for start-ups.” Nevertheless, one notices that the agricultural sector in particular is still in its infancy and is lagging behind other economic sectors. “To remain viable in the future, it is important that the agricultural sector enters a process of transformation.”
Research should pave the way for incubator program
“However, we think that it is particularly important, especially for a traditional industry such as agriculture, to promote the start-up landscape and drive forward the start-up process. That’s why we see great research potential here.”
She is not alone in this. The German Start-Ups Association has established an AgTech platform specifically for this area. “We (thus) have the opportunity to bundle the specific interests and topics of the young AgTech industry and to communicate them to politicians, the public and representatives of the established agricultural sector”, said platform spokeswoman Dr. Julia Rosendahl. The platform also offers start-ups the opportunity for exchange and networking among themselves.
Depending on the course of the study, Gerlach wants to identify concrete factors that distinguish successful start-ups from less successful ones. “Overall, these are points that are very interesting for an accelerator or incubator,” says Sybille Gerlach.
The processed results are also to be integrated into the teaching programme at the FH Soest. Students and potential founders of start-ups from the agricultural sector will thus, on the one hand, get to know the topic of start-ups in general and, on the other hand, learn what are the important factors in a start-up and what should be paid particular attention to. “This is not yet an accelerator or incubator, but it is at least a step in this direction,” said Gerlach concluding.