Investor to establish ag-tech center in Fargo
Plug and Play to set up shop in Fargo, aiming to make region a Silicon Valley of ag tech.
FARGO, N.D. — A California-based company that bills itself as the largest global innovation platform for business accelerators is coming to Fargo in an attempt to help make the Red River Valley a sort of Silicon Valley for ag tech.
Saaeed Amidi, founder and chief executive officer of Plug and Play LLC, of Sunnydale, Calif.., described the venture, flanked by North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfried. The event at North Dakota State University’s Richard H. Barry Hall drew about 200 people from NDSU and numerous agricultural companies in the region.
Burgum touted the state and Red River Valley region as home to many legacy agricultural technology companies, as well as recent developments involving robotic farming, drones, and autonomous equipment, engineering and business software connected to agriculture and farming.
Ag tech leader
Burgum said that North Dakota is a national leader in agricultural technology, with companies like Doosan Bobcat and Steiger Tractor Co.
“North Dakota is an ideal place for startups from around the globe to test their technology, grow their companies and advance agriculture for our nation and the world,” Burgum said.
He said Plug And Play will help bring together “partners who have got access to customers, access to finance, access to markets, access to ideas, access to mentors, access to technology.”
Amidi said he grew up in Iran and started businesses at age 19. In the mid-1980s, he started investing in high-tech startup companies, including PayPal, where he invested $100,000 and got back $7 million, and has been involved in early stages of Android and Dropbox, but also Bobcat and Mercedes.
Amidi said he established Plug and Play in 2006, to meet entrepreneurs and make investments.
Plug and Play runs 50 different “accelerators” across 26 cities worldwide — now including Fargo. Amidi said the company earns about 10% of its money from growing these “ecosystems” of business. It earns about 90% of its money from its own direct investments in those companies.
“We work with over 300 corporate partners and we invest ourselves in about 250 startups every year,” said Michael Olmstead, chief revenue officer. “I”m hoping that in Fargo we can build the best and the biggest agricultural innovation platform in the world.”
Olmstead introduced a group of four “founding partners” in the new Fargo office, including such familiar names as Bremer Bank, CHS Inc., and Microsoft Corp., and less familiar names like “The OCP Group,” a Moroccan company with $6 billion in sales that moves about 100,000 tons of fertilizer in North Dakota every year. These partners pay a fee to help support the office staff and may have other connections.
Felipe Gonzalez, originally from Brazil, will start a Fargo office that will have five employees. The company will bring in more experienced startup entrepreneurs from elsewhere who can connect with contemporaries from here.
“I know how much agriculture is important for us, and I want to try to build a connection between what you guys are doing here, and what Brazil is doing, and what China is doing everywhere around the world,” Gonzalez said.
In the U.S., Plug and Play has helped about 1,200 entrepreneurs per year and invests in about 250 of them per year, Amidi said. In Europe, they’ve helped 600 startups and invested in 50 of them. He said the company would “love to do in Fargo, 20 investments a year,” Amidi said, and drew applause and laughter when he added, “I think we did two this morning.”
Greg Lardy, NDSU’s vice president of agricultural affairs, said the university in mid-February established its first formal connection to “Grand Farm,” a project that is part of the Emerging Prairie, a non-profit economic development company created in 2013.
“If you think about it in the scope of agriculture in the region: farmers, producers, agribusiness — having these tech-startups here, and this accelerator presence, is going to bring a lot of spinoff benefits to all of agribusiness and all of agriculture,” Lardy said.
The Grand Farm farm technology development site has been promoted as an “autonomous farm,” and NDSU this spring will establish a research effort on gathering detailed baseline soil health data for the location.
Brian Carroll, director of operations for the Grand Farm, says Plug and Play will bring about 20 startup companies from around the world or from California into the community. One goal is to allow opportunities for NDSU graduates and other entrepreneurs to be able to start their companies here instead of having to go elsewhere for money and connections.