A helping hand for agriculture and food start-ups

The RH Accelerator aims to provide mentorship and to help fund new agriculture businesses

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Throughout his career, Joe Dales has had a passion for innovation, agriculture and bringing new tools to farmers. He caught the entrepreneurial bug in the early days of the internet, creating what today is Farms.com.

Now he’s putting his network and years of experience to work helping early stage entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground. Together with business partners David Billson and Brian Foster, Dales has established the RH Accelerator Inc. in London, Ontario.

Why it matters: Early stage, innovative companies require significant support, including capital, which is often not available to Canadian entrepreneurs and start-ups.

“I want to help ag and food entrepreneurs. When we were starting Farms.com, we got a lot of help from people who were supporters and mentors,” Dales explains.

London is becoming a hot-spot for agriculture start-up encouragement with the RH Accelerator and also the Grove, a repurposing of old facilities at the Western Fair site into a hub for agriculture and food companies. Dales is the past-president of the Western Fair board of directors.

Billson is co-founder and CEO of rTraction Ltd., a London-based digital services agency and certified B corporation, which means the company has met high standards of transparency, legal accountability and verified social and environmental performance. Foster is co-founder of campus recreation software company InnoSoft Inc., also based in London.

“The three of us have been assembling mentors and investors to help these early stage companies,” Dales says. “The accelerator is broader than ag and food, but my passion is agriculture and that’s where I can help the most, and we need to do a better job in ag and food of bringing in outside talent.”

The RH Accelerator is housed in a former rail company roundhouse in London. photo: RH Accelerator

Entrepreneurs accepted into RH Accelerator’s start-up program receive 12 months of planning and support in business, technology, sales, marketing, human resources, investment strategy and execution, and creating value for shareholders.

RH also provides office space in the London Roundhouse, mentorship, monthly meetings to talk about the business and help with funding and investment pitches.

Rancho Nexo is one company currently part of the RH start-up program. Personal reasons took founder Matthew Grant to Mexico over a year ago, and with his background in agricultural sales and channel management, he was soon being approached by former colleagues and customers for help getting into the Mexican market.

Now, he’s helping primarily Canadian agtech firms bring their technology and solutions to farmers and agribusinesses in Mexico. Some of those companies Grant is working with include Greentronics of Elmira, London’s A&L Laboratories and Entry Software Corporation, Northstar Systems and FarmTRX of Saskatoon, and Harvest Genomics of Guelph.

He’s also currently working very closely with EnvisionSQ, a Guelph-based company that has developed a pollution scrubbing technology. Mexico City in particular has long struggled with high levels of smog and air pollution.

“Being able to bounce ideas off of and leverage the experience of Joe, Brian and Dave as founders of businesses has meant a lot to me – the mentorship available is a huge piece of the help they’ve given to get the business off the ground and into growth,” Grant says.

Ryan Clements’ company Farm Ventures has been building niche mobile horse racing games for the past three years, and relocated to RH Accelerator this past summer. Off and Pacing is their flagship product, a management game where players own racehorses, manage their stable and watch it race.

All of Farm Venture’s revenue comes from Apple’s app store and the Google Play store, with the majority of their customers in the United States, Australia and Canada.

For Clements, the RH environment has been good for creativity as his team of five work to bring new products to market, including a virtual reality version of a multiplayer harness racing game. He’s also benefitted from networking opportunities to build more partnerships.

“For me, the biggest thing has been working directly with Joe to develop partnerships, introducing me to the right people and getting to the right meetings at places like Western Fair in London and Woodbine, for example,” Clements says. “He’s been helpful at pushing me away from writing code and getting out to meet people – we weren’t really working with anybody too closely before.”

To participate in the accelerator, companies provide RH with a small equity stake for five to seven years, and Dales has been busy building relationships with similar accelerators across North America, as well as colleges and universities. His long-term goal is to work with 1,000 start-ups in 10 years.

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