How does innovation get to rural, farming areas? In this interview with Chris Hlubb, Program Director of F3 Tech, an accelerator program sponsored by the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center, we learn about a proof-of-concept process for agriculture and aquaculture innovations, and intellectual property protections available to them.
The F3 Tech program is different from other accelerator programs: It’s all about the food. Chris describes F3 Tech as focused on any business, product, or idea that will make agriculture, aquaculture, the environment or our food chain better. To evolve those industries, innovators must understand a key player – the farmer. “In the area of agriculture, there is the potential for significant technology adoption.” Academic and urban innovators developing the technology typically do not have industry contacts within the farming community to gather feedback on the innovations. As Chris explains, “They did not have the ability to get to potential customers and validate that what they had created was wanted or needed.”
Chris sees the role of F3 Tech as bridging the gap between academic or urban technological innovators and rural areas that would benefit from innovation. A critical aspect of the F3 Tech approach is not groundbreaking, it just works: Talk to your customer. In this case, the customer is the farmer. Candidates in the F3 Tech pre-accelerator program participate in six weeks of proof-of-concept goal setting and action planning. To achieve the goals, F3 Tech mentors help participants meet customers, such as farmers or members of the agricultural and business community. They push the participants to have conversations that provide critical feedback. “It is really about taking something that you thought was useful and learning from your customers how to make it of value to them.”
In a recent iteration of the F3 Tech Accelerator program, Chris introduced participants to an executive at a Perdue chicken production facility. Chris remembers the interactions as “a life changing experience” for participants developing agriculture-based innovations, such as improvements to chicken facility waste processing and alternative feed development. Chris describes the need for contact between the participants and the customer: “You learn something [about your innovation]: whether it’s of value; whether it’s competitive; whether it’s something they’re willing to pay for; or whether it can function in their environment.” As their confidence in the networking process grows, so grows the participants’ networks. Like other business accomplishments, Chris points out that “you earn your network through hard work.” F3 Tech offers participants a good, initial farming industry contact. F3 Tech participants may ultimately find customers directly or indirectly through the F3 Tech initial contacts.
Chris also talked with me about intellectual property and the F3 Tech program. F3 Tech participants hear a clear message: you must identify intellectual property protections that help you distinguish yourselves in the farming industry market. Sometimes, using patent protections to stop others from making, using, or selling your innovation is an ideal approach. Other times, keeping your innovation secret, and avoiding the public aspect of a patent, is a favored approach. Mentors suggest that F3 Tech participants learn as much about intellectual property protections as possible by consulting with a legal advisor when developing companies around an innovation-based competitive advantage.
I want to thank Chris Hlubb for sharing information about the F3 Tech accelerator program. To learn more about F3 Tech and the upcoming pre-accelerator program, please visit (https://f3tech.org/).
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