Micro ranches and these other agriculture startups are nothing to chirp at

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Micro ranches and these other agriculture startups are nothing to chirp at

By May Ortega / Albuquerque Business First | April 13, 2017

New Mexico’s first agriculture technology accelerator has selected its cohort of startups — and they’re nothing to chirp at.

The Las Cruces-based Arrowhead Center first announced its agtech program, called AgSprint, in February. Of the nearly 50 applications received from around the country and the world, six were selected, five from the Land of Enchantment. The sixth — Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch — hails from Denver and offers an alternative source of protein.

The micro ranch raises and sells “microlivestock” in the form of crickets, waxworms and mealworms. But you won’t find the last two referred as such on any menu. Instead, the startup has created more marketable names for them: galleria and molitos.

Wendy Lu McGill, founder and CEO of Rocky Mountain Micro Ranch, said the company’s product has been received well in Denver. Since launching in 2015, the two-person team has gained five Denver-area restaurants as customers. Among them is Linger, a high-end establishment that has made headlines for serving the startup’s insects. She hopes to possibly set up shop in New Mexico, creating jobs in the process.

“Crickets are relatively easy to raise,” McGill said. “They’re also arguably the most popular edible insect in North America right now.”

She told Albuquerque Business First the micro ranch has held up to 250,000 crickets at one time. They have seen up to $5,000 in revenues so far, but McGill expects that to increase after the ranch graduates from AgSprint in about four months.

“We’re are learning so much through the customer discovery process and really questioning our basic business theory,” she said.

Raising and harvesting crickets is substantially more sustainable than traditional livestock, McGill said. For example, it takes 22,000 liters of water to produce 10,000 grams of feed to get one kilogram of beef. Alternatively, less than one liter of water for 1,700 grams of feed is needed for one kilogram of cricket protein production, according to the micro ranch’s website.

Bonus fact: RMMR’s microlivestock are usually fed leftover grains from Denver microbreweries and distilleries.

The other AgSprint startups are:

  • Wildlife Protection Management — offers a platform to manage and protect wildlife using non-invasive humane means, making it easier, more comprehensive and affordable to set goals for species populations and habitat health.
  • Ag Coalition — offers a digital marketplace where all parties, from suppliers to producers to retailers, may review, evaluate, purchase, and otherwise conduct business in the agricultural supply chain.
  • Revolution Agriculture — creates closed-system, organic farms that produce eight times the yield per square foot, run 100 percent on renewable energy, use 90 percent less water and empower communities to solve food insecurity locally and in any environment.
  • Gonzo Farms — created the Eddy 2.0 Vortex Brewer, which increases beneficial microbes and fungi for optimum reproduction in soil.
  • Enchanted Seeds and Sustainable Management — offers a management decision platform and certification program that helps agricultural producers properly identify potential products to reach sustainability while considering economics and future agricultural production.

Zetdi Sloan, director of Arrowhead’s Technology Incubator, previously told Business First there has been a greater global need for agtech recently. AgSprint was created to meet that demand, making it the 12th similar program in the country.

New Mexico generates $6 billion in revenue through agriculture alone, according to NMSU’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. When food processing is included, that raises the number to about $11 billion.

Team expertise, scalability and potential economic impact were among the top factors judges took into consideration, Sloan said.

“A portion of the review process [for participants] was trying to understand how our resources and assets in this state and within our regional partners’ network would benefit the applicants and their teams,” Sloan said.

The six startups will be awarded $2,000 each if they complete the first five weeks of the AgSprint curriculum, receive business mentoring and space in which to test their products.

At the end of the program in August, the companies could also become eligible to join the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps Program — called I-Corps — and possibly receive up to $50,000 in funding.

Sloan said the Arrowhead Center will open applications for a health technology program once AgSprint wraps up. The dates for that have not been finalized.

Creating such an accelerator would follow a rising trend in New Mexico, showing a budding spotlight on the state’s health and bioscience industries. Last month, ABQid announced it was going to become a health and wellness accelerator for the next three years. Last week, Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law a bill that sets into motion the establishment of an official bioscience authority in New Mexico.