Portfolio Profiles

SparkLabs Cultiv8 on how to create strong financial returns and meaningful impact

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

SparkLabs Cultiv8 founders Malcolm Nutt (left) and Jonathon Quigley
SparkLabs Cultiv8 founders Malcolm Nutt (left) and Jonathon Quigley

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AgTechNavigator caught up with SparkLabs Cultiv8, an Australian-based accelerator programme that supports early-stage agri-food tech and cleantech startups from ideation to commercialisation.

Founded in 2017 by Malcolm Nutt and Jonathon Quigley, SparkLabs Cultiv8 has supported more than 50 (both Australian and international) companies through its accelerator programme. These companies today boast a combined market cap of over AUD$1.7 billion and have raised more than half a billion dollars in follow-on capital.

Examples include Australian companies Zetifi, which delivers reliable wifi to remote farms; seaweed-based feed company FutureFeed; Ranchbot, which deploys small farm robots to improve water and resource use: proof that companies that began life down under can tap into universal agtech challenges; and Woolemi, which offers audit-grade climate reporting for land and agricultural portfolios.

SparkLabs Cultiv8 most recently announced a tie-up with Kansas State University’s research innovation and partnership arm, K-State Innovation Partners, to drive agri-food tech growth.

What’s behind the success of the accelerator?

At SparkLabs Cultiv8, our success is driven by people. Since 2018, we have supported over 50 entrepreneurs in the agri-food tech sector, each with unique technologies, development stages, and geographic locations. We prioritise selecting the right individuals to join our network and we focus on founders who are passionate and coachable. We engage with experienced mentors committed to providing guidance and feedback to support entrepreneurs, and we select domestic and international partners enthusiastic about collaborating with our alumni.

Our participants consistently highlight that our networks and our growing alumni community are key to their success. Located in Orange, NSW, a prominent food production region, and collocated with the NSW Department of Primary Industry, we place our participants at the heart of the food production and R&D ecosystem. This strategic location allows them to be close to their future customers and the broader industry.

Our success in our first five years enabled us to partner with Challenger Group in 2022 to launch Cultiv8 Funds Management, a specialist agri-food technology venture capital fund investing in Australian and global companies from Seed to Series B.

What’s your approach, what companies have you backed and why?

We invest in practical and scalable technologies that address challenges across the food value-chain to improve the way we produce, distribute and consume food. When backing companies we consider market crowding, the total addressable market, adoptability, global potential and the accumulated impact of an innovation from an environmental, efficiency and economical perspective.

The accelerator has a global mandate and primarily invests in developed markets. Our alumni includes innovations such as sustainable packaging solutions, advanced soil health technologies, labour-efficient robots, natural solutions for methane reduction and more.

Cultiv8 Funds Management has invested in six companies to date – Arugga (Israel), FutureFeed (Australia), Nutrivert (USA), WollemAI (Australia), Zetifi (Australia) and Exoflare (Australia).

What are the sectors you see growth potential in?

We are sector-agnostic within the context of agri-food tech. We focus on companies that enhance existing food production systems with innovations that are so compelling customers – whether they’re farmers or other members of the agri-food ecosystem – will eagerly adopt them. Solutions that increase productivity, profitability and time efficiency are particularly attractive investment opportunities.

With macro global trends including emissions targets, labour shortages, and biosecurity concerns, technologies leveraging AI advancements and creating a more sustainable and resilient agri-food system are poised for growth.

What else do you look for in companies you support?

When evaluating companies for investment, we look beyond their specific product or service to assess several key factors. A strong leadership team that is open to collaboration is crucial. We also prioritise companies with a pragmatic approach to agriculture, ensuring they work synergistically with all participants in the supply chain rather than against them. This includes understanding and addressing the needs and challenges of suppliers, distributors, and other stakeholders to foster a cooperative and efficient ecosystem. Additionally, a commitment to sustainability is essential, as it ensures the company is well-positioned for long-term success and resilience in an evolving market.

How do you build working relationships with founders?

Our accelerator program allows us to develop deep working relationships with founders. We dedicate significant time to understanding each founder's personal motivations, strengths, and journey in addition to their company's technology and business model. Through hands-on collaboration, we gain a thorough understanding of the founder's needs, which enables us to provide tailored mentorship and support that extends well beyond the program's duration.

We strive to be long-term partners, often serving on advisory boards and actively supporting companies through future fundraising and strategic decisions. By fostering trust and aligning ourselves with the founder's success, we cultivate relationships that endure across the entire entrepreneurial journey.

How do you define success?

Success is achieved when a company we've backed executes its strategy effectively, and creates both strong financial returns and meaningful impact within the agriculture and food ecosystem. It’s rewarding to play a role in our portfolio's journey, providing capital and mentorship to support scalable solutions that benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment.

What’s your advice for start-ups amid the current investment downturn?

Good founders will always get funded. All markets are cyclical and agri-food tech is no different in that respect. For investors there are significant opportunities for value creation in a subdued environment, so founders should ensure their value proposition is communicated effectively.

Agriculture remains essential, and technology will play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges of supporting a resilient and sustainable food system. While some may view the current cycle pessimistically, the agri-food tech sector is poised for continued growth and innovation. The future remains promising for those who can adapt and articulate their unique value effectively.

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