Ag Tech Startup FarmLogs Nets $1M in Seed Funding

2/25/13Follow @XconomyDET

The Ann Arbor, MI-based ag tech startup FarmLogs is on a quest to bring farm management into the digital age, and the recent completion of a $1 million seed round lead by Ann Arbor-based Huron River Ventures and Chicago-based Hyde Park Venture Partners will push the company forward.

What FarmLogs offers is a one-stop farm management destination loaded with features such as profit forecasting, risk management, expense and crop tracking, and even weather monitoring. “FarmLogs helps farmers plan their year to maximize profit and track what they’re spending during the year,” says co-founder Jesse Vollmar. “We have the tools and do the math to see what the profit per acre will be, which helps with forward contracting and how much risk a farmer is willing to take.”

Vollmar, the son of organic farmers, grew up in the thumb of Michigan in the tiny town of Caro. He was always much more into software than seeds, he explains, so he and his co-founder, Brad Koch, started a business in high school helping people in the community build websites. “It became a real business,” Vollmar recalls. “We went from building websites to building custom software.”

He embarked on a project to track inventory in his family’s grain silo. As it does in small farming towns, word got around quickly. “Other farmers in town heard we were building software for the grain elevator and they kept asking when it would be done,” Vollmar says. A little surprised by the level of interest that seemed to be out there for his simple software, he started investigating. He learned that most farmers were struggling with the existing software products on the market.

“What [farmers] had available was really inadequate,” Vollmar explains. “They were spending hundreds of dollars on desktop farm management software, but the user experience was so painful that they would pay for classes to learn how to use it. Then, even after taking the classes, they still wouldn’t use it. That showed demand, but there was still a problem to be solved.”

Vollmar admits that even his own family, despite a resident tech wizard, was using Google Calendar to manage the farm. So he and Koch began talking to other farmers to validate the demand and then set about building a startup to address their needs. Vollmar and Koch applied to Y Combinator and were accepted, so FarmLogs headed out to Mountain View, CA, for a four-month stint in the elite business incubator last January. “They believed in our mission and our team,” Vollmar says. “We were able to become part of a network of really intelligent people.”

At the end of the Y Combinator engagement, Vollmar and Koch had to decide where to base their company. “Silicon Valley is a wonderful place for startups, but we were building a solution for Midwestern farmers,” Vollmar points out. “Plus, we wanted to support the Michigan economy.”

So the pair decided to headquarter FarmLogs in Ann Arbor and raised a $1 million seed round to go with Y Combinator’s initial investment. This has enabled the FarmLogs team to grow to five full-time employees with more being hired “immediately.” Vollmar says the FarmLogs mobile software for Android and iOS has been completely overhauled for the spring planting season and will be available very soon.

FarmLogs offers its tools on a Software as a Service subscription basis. He says response has been great, and he’s not particularly worried about the aging population of farm owners, who aren’t usually considered a very tech-savvy bunch. “Farming is such a capital-intensive operation,” Vollmar says. “It takes a long time to build up. The older generation is probably the one that owns the land, but then he helps his sons take it on. It’s probably a son or cousin managing the day-to-day operation of the farm. The younger generation is definitely involved.”

In fact, Vollmar notes, it’s this younger generation that is passionately advocating for better ag tech and pushing the older members not to settle for anything less than easy-to-use software that can be accessed from a tractor, if need be. “When people find us, they’re delighted someone is finally tackling this,” he adds. “They’re relieved to find something easy with a good interface.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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