August 29th, 2019, San Francisco (AgFunder News): “The speed of technology change that’s occurring in the world is a challenge to keep up with internally,” says Chamidu Karunathilake.
Karunathilake, head of technology innovations portfolio at GrainCorp, Australia’s largest listed agribusiness, is speaking about the rapidly-growing number of technologies being developed for the agriculture industry across the globe and along the supply chain.
GrainCorp provides storage, handling, and processing to the world’s grain and malt businesses. This means that the wealth of precision agriculture technologies, as well as supply chain technologies offering traceability, transparency, and food safety solutions, could all help GrainCorp increase efficiencies in its operations and stay competitive to its customers. It’s a complex landscape to navigate as different technologies will be relevant for different parts of its business, according to Karunathilake.
“Being a global company with lots of diversified interests, it’s pretty hard to define exactly what our core challenge areas are; if you look at our Australian logistics operation, there’s a very different set of innovation challenges to our trading business in the UK.”
Karunathilake also wants to keep an eye out of novel processing technologies and methods that could improve quality but also potentially create new revenue streams/products.
But keeping an eye out for new technologies is where the challenge comes; like most corporates the size of GrainCorp and many of the world’s agribusinesses, the company is not positioned or organized in a way that makes it possible to survey the startup scene as often as necessary.
Step in TERRA
TERRA is an innovation accelerator that launched in 2016 with founding partners RocketSpace, a Silicon Valley-based external innovation consulting company, and Rabobank, the leading provider of financial services in the food, agribusiness, and beverage industry. The program is intended to fuel groundbreaking transformation in the food and agriculture industry in order to advance the well-being of our people and our planet.
TERRA takes a unique approach to acceleration by focusing on startups that are ready to scale their businesses, as opposed to those at the proof of concept stage still refining their pitches for seed funding. And it executes this focus by partnering with established food and agriculture businesses, like GrainCorp, that work with the cohort of startups to co-develop products, adapt technologies to specific parts of the industry, become customers, and discover new uses for technology. Unlike many other accelerator programs, TERRA does not take equity in its startups.
GrainCorp is now entering its third year as a TERRA collaborator, which forms a key part of GrainCorp’s internal innovation program. Through the partnership, TERRA helps GrainCorp to find and interact with startups of interest to its operations and GrainCorp, in turn, works with startups in the program to their benefit, typically through conducting trials but also in opening up its network.
“We see TERRA as an extension to our innovation team,” says Karunathilake. “We set our innovation objectives internally at the beginning of the year and then use TERRA to source relevant startups to those objectives.”
“Monthly we hold an internal innovation forum to discuss the various projects we’ve found and what’s happening elsewhere in the world to identify those we want to work closer with through our innovation program. All this started thanks to programs like TERRA.”
GrainCorp is also organized to share the learnings from its startup interactions across the business, which avoids handling innovation in an ad hoc way in siloes, across multiple business units.
“Also, it’s impossible to be at the forefront of modern developments all the time; TERRA has allowed us to reach into startups we wouldn’t have been able to reach otherwise,” adds Karunathilake.
TERRA will announce the startups taking part in its fourth cohort next month.
2 Years; 8 Pilots
GrainCorp has now run eight pilot programs with TERRA startups in the last two years, adopting 70% of the technologies piloted. Those eight were selected from a shortlist of around 400 across the two years. “That just shows the quality of startups shown to us through TERRA,” says Karunathilake.
TE-FOOD is one example of a TERRA cohort member that successfully piloted with GrainCorp on a blockchain-based traceability pilot with its Canadian subsidiary Canada Malting Company. Canada Malting involved its partners Hamill Farms, Red Shed, and Last Best Brewing & Distilling to create a whole chain experience, and the resulting product was “Bock Chain” — a new beer officially launched on February 1st — that uses blockchain technology to trace the beer grain ingredients from field to can.
The solution allows consumers to follow the way Bock Chain was produced. The barley was grown and harvested at Hamill Farms in Penhold, Canada then traveled to Canada Malting Company in Calgary Canada for malting, then to a third-party lab for quality assurance, on to Red Shed Malting in Penhold for roasting and finally to Last Best in Calgary for brewing and packaging.
Another successful interaction was with Novolyze, the pathogen testing business for the dairy industry, which GrainCorp supplies to, particularly butter. GrainCorp has now incorporated Novolyze into its production process.
TERRA will be announcing its fourth cohort next month and Karunathilake is excited to see what startups the accelerator has found that match the corporates needs this year, which focus on geospatial analysis, automation using remote IoT sensors and improving factory equipment effectiveness (OEE).