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Agriculture Startups Can Be Lean, Too

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Want to see the definition of a lean startup?

Check out Phytelligence, an innovative agriculture startup out of Washington State University. (Yup, it’s farm day at Nibletz. )

Several years ago, as part of his research at the university, Dr. Amit Dhingra began interviewing local nurseries. He asked the same questions any good startup founder would ask:

What problems do you see over and over again?

What would you like to see research done on?

How could we make your life easier?

After getting that initial customer discovery, Dr. Dhingra set to work with his research team. After a few years, they had a solution that they believed could become a product. Plants that were free from disease and guaranteed to be the exact genetic specimen a grower ordered.

Then, 3 years ago, WSU entrepreneur-in-residence Chris Leyerle got involved.

Now, the company is independent of Washington State, and they have big plans. For now, they are targeting their products to commercial nurseries. Through these partners, they are able to get more exposure to growers and aren’t hindered by growing seasons. Nurseries are less seasonal than growers.

Angel Capital Expo

These nursery partnerships have been easy to get because, remember, Dr. Dhingra asked them years ago what they needed and set to work supplying it.

In addition to selling their plantlets, Phytelligence has found a market for their genetic testing abilities.

When growers order plants, they can often get completely wrong specimens. In the case of plants like trees, it could be a few years before they realize the mistake.

Phytelligence genetic analysis is able to quickly test every single plant, even in a large order, to guarantee it’s what the grower ordered. Obviously, this saves growers enormous amounts of time and money.

During their research, the Phytelligence scientists also uncovered an organic ripening compound that could change the way fruit is delivered. Think about the last time you bought a pear. Unlike it was from a farm stand during peak season, it was probably hard and unripe. You bring it home, set it on the counter, but it never ripens.

This problem is the result of current commercial storage compounds used when picking and shipping fruit. The Phytelligence team has found an organic formula that grocery stores can apply to fruit, pears especially, and restart the ripening process.

Phytelligence has been able to do all of this work on a small amount of investor money, and they are already post-revenue. Besides modeling a lean startup model, they also prove the benefit of local universities feeding the startup ecosystem.

This week Phytelligence is showing off at the Angel Capital Expo. Find out more about them at their website.

An earlier version of this article misspelled Dr. Dhingra’s name, as well as misquoted the number of years it can take a grower to identify a wrong specimen and said that nurseries buy all year round.