Agritech offers fertile ground for Kiwi innovations

By Jesse Keith, National Technology Network Manager – Design & Manufacturing, Callaghan Innovation

01I will start with a big, fat confession … This year was my first ever Fieldays and as I sit here at Hamilton airport waiting for my delayed flight back to Wellington I’m wondering why! I’m a Kiwi designer and the National Network Manager – Design & Manufacturing for Callaghan Innovation and I’ve seriously been missing out!

It’s still very much a “red band” gummies dress code, but don’t be fooled. Fieldays 2015 is far more than just a farming show! This is the annual event that puts the Waikato on the map, drawing in crowds of more than 30,000 every day.

Fieldays highlighted to me once again that Kiwis really are natural innovators, inventors, doers, makers and entrepreneurs. This is a world-class showcase of agritech businesses displaying their existing products and solutions as well inspiring the crowds with their innovative new product ideas. Yes you can head along with only the aim of purchasing yourself this year’s new “bad-ass truck” or a “classic Swani”, but I witnessed what I would deem the true value of the event – which was Kiwi agritech product and solution developers coming together for the networking, the sharing of practical knowledge and to promote their new ideas.

Fieldays is the perfect environment for true market validation, direct customer feedback, potential distribution deals and no doubt the start of many a joint-venture or collaborative R&D project.

Callaghan Innovation along with sponsors like SODA Inc and Locus Research got behind this year’s Fieldays Innovation Centre – a sub-event which shines the limelight on both the backyard inventor and professional innovator. Entrants can display everything from a brand new prototyped idea through to a fully fledged product looking for greater market validation or distribution opportunities.

The crowds were fully engaged with the “Kindling Cracker” team who had their simple yet very clever product on display. The product was designed by Ayla Hutchison for a school science project and it won her Young Innovator of the Year at the 2013 Fieldays. The success of this simple design was evident as by 2pm on day 2 of Fieldays 2015 the Kindling Cracker team had sold out of the 200 units they had at the show and sold another 400 units online. From those humble beginnings in 2013 they have turned a prototype into a product that is now being shipped to North American by the 40ft container load.

Ubco also had the crowds buzzing with an all-wheel-drive electric utility farm-bike. After winning the 2014 Fieldays Locus Research Innovation Award and huge market interest the Ubco team realised they had a truly unique offering. The following 12 months have seen them refine their product and brand offering to the point of producing their first 100 production bikes. Ubco have delivered a disruptive new market option that is a silent, safe, emission free transport solution.

This year’s winner of the Fieldays Innovation Grassroots Award was Felton Industries with their yard wash-down hose nozzle. Felton Industries are better known for their domestic shower heads and mixers, but with some lateral thinking the Felton team saw the potential to translate their knowledge in water science to a whole new market. General Manager Roger Marty said they were surprised and excited by the award and attending Fieldays 2015 had helped them with their market validation, potential pricing structure as well as opening up conversations around future distribution channels.

Inspired by the “dragon’s den” or “demo day” style business pitch format Fieldays Innovation Den – powered by SODA Inc – gave eight teams the opportunity to pitch their agritech product solution, business model and value proposition to a high-level industry-focused judging panel ( http://www.fieldays.co.nz/judges ). To help prepare for their pitch the teams worked with Hamilton-based founder focused incubator SODA Inc. This year’s Most Viable Business Award went to Check-Up, a consumable mastitis diagnostic tool.

My personal takeaway from my two days at Fieldays 2015 was keep it coming! Keep the product ideas, industry networking, knowledge sharing and end-user validation at the pointy-end of the Fieldays event. It is these new ideas which are the future of our Kiwi agritech industry. We all acknowledge that it’s not easy to design, develop and commercialise successful product solutions in any industry, but in the agritech space Kiwis have the knowledge and drive to be true market leaders.

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About Callaghan Innovation

Business. Technology. Success.
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