HOW COLORADO BECAME A LEADING AGTECH HUB

With a blend of farmland and tech innovator, Colorado is poised to solve some of agriculture’s biggest challenges.

October 8, 2019 / As originally published on Builtin.com:  https://builtin.com/articles/colorado-agtech-innovation

Colorado’s mountains are a draw for leading tech talent, but it’s the rolling hills below that drive the agricultural tech innovations needed to feed the world’s growing population.

With 73 startups dedicated to agriculture technology, Colorado is the second-largest agtech ecosystem in the country, tied with New York and second only to Silicon Valley, according to a recent report on venture capital funding and agtech innovation. Engineers and developers in Denver and Boulder are working with farmers to solve those issues with drones, autonomous machines and big data tools.

As an agtech ecosystem, Colorado has a range of advantages over traditional tech hubs, starting with close proximity to fields and farmers to test out their tools. Add in a growing tech center in Boulder and Denver, a pipeline of talent from Colorado State University’s agriculture program and a series of agricultural challenges that breed innovative solutions, and the state has all the ingredients to be a leader in the industry.

COLORADO ‘GETS’ AGRICULTURE’S BIGGEST CHALLENGES 

Ten years ago, Kevin France set out to create technology that could help farmers track every drop of water they used.

Colorado had just emerged from a lengthy drought, and many of the state’s farmers were selling away their water rights for millions of dollars. This proved to be lucrative in the short run, but France, who had helped farmers negotiate those exchanges, knew it wasn’t a long-term solution for farmers or the state’s economy.

So, he met with local philanthropist and gas magnate Ed Warner and hydrogeologist Bob Stoller to come up with a better way for farmers to measure and manage their water. The group received a grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and U.S. Department of Agriculture to set up a five-year research and development program in Greely, Colorado to solve the issue.

The results led to his company, Swiim System. It provides a device that integrates with existing water measurement tools, such as water gauges, and reports water usage in real-time via telemetry to Swiim. The data is then uploaded to be analyzed in its software, which presents farmers with exactly how much water is used for crops, versus how much goes back into the ground or atmosphere.

Colorado is a wonderful state to attract not only a staff but develop early-stage entrepreneurial vision.”

Colorado’s connection to tech talent in Boulder and Denver, an innovative agriculture research school in Colorado State University, and challenges with water, made it the perfect launching ground for France. It’s central location has been another benefit as the company has expanded into California, Arizona, Nevada and other Western states, France said.

“Colorado is a wonderful state to attract not only staff but to develop an early-stage entrepreneurial vision,” France said. “You have a beautiful land grant university, you have the resources and you have an environment that encourages entrepreneurship and risk-taking.”