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Sunday, 10 July 2016 13:37

GreenStone looks to seed next-gen agribusiness innovation

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Michigan’s largest agricultural lender views a $25,000 sponsorship and in-kind support pledged to Ottawa County’s Great Lakes Ag-Tech Incubator as a key part of its business.

In addition to the cash support, GreenStone Farm Credit Services will provide training and mentoring in areas such as financial and risk management to clients of the business incubator.

Providing support for ag producers and entrepreneurs who seek to commercialize innovative equipment, software or other inventions is a “natural fit” for the lending cooperative, said CEO David Armstrong. GreenStone has developed curriculum in a number of subject areas and has the experts who can provide instruction, he said.

As a major lender to the industry, GreenStone Farm Credit Services needs to back entrepreneurial development and invest “in helping our customers and industry continue to innovate and be very competitive in what I see as a rapidly changing future,” Armstrong said, noting that agriculture must “continue to be relevant as an industry and profitable.”

“It’s going to take a lot of creative solutions to age-old problems,” Armstrong said. “Without this incubator there to help people vet a lot of their ideas, I think many of those ideas may be lost for lack of support and encouragement.

“We’re very integrated into the agricultural industry here in the state. We feel we have a stake in the future of that industry, and technological innovation is going to be a huge driver of that future. We feel a commitment to be a part of that and support it.”

The East Lansing-based GreenStone Farm Credit Services, which manages assets of $7.8 billion, lends to farmers in Michigan and northeast Wisconsin. Created by the 2000 merger of four farm credit associations in the Lower Peninsula, the cooperative has a network of 36 branch offices and more than 24,000 members.

GreenStone Farm Credit’s clients range from small to “extremely large” farms and span every commodity grown in Michigan, plus other agricultural businesses in rural areas, Armstrong said.

The Great Lakes Ag-Tech Incubator, formed by Ottawa County as a nonprofit venture and launched in December 2014, works with farmers, entrepreneurs and existing businesses to commercialize, license or sell ag-technology innovations. Incubator staff work to provide clients an array of support services that include validating business concepts, vetting intellectual property, preparing business plans and financial documents, conducting market analyses, and securing business financing.

The incubator, which operates virtually, also connects clients with manufacturing and agri-business experts to assist with prototyping and product testing.

Five startup companies so far have sought assistance from the incubator, said Executive Director Paul Sachs. One of the startup companies has since dissolved, he added.

“Several more potential clients” are lined up for the incubator, Sachs said. He expects to have six clients at the end of 2016 and 15 to 20 next year.  

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