Lenore Shoham Answers 6 Questions about Screening Applications at Trendlines Agtech

Trendlines Agtech receives hundreds of new company inquiries annually. As VP, New Ventures, Lenore Shoham screens these inquiries and is most often the first point of contact with the entrepreneurs, agriculturists, or scientists behind the project.

Prior to joining Trendlines Agtech, Lenore was an independent business consultant, conducting market research and writing business plans for Israeli start-ups in diverse fields. She holds an M.A. in theoretical linguistics from Tel Aviv University and an MBA in finance and strategic consulting from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya.

We asked Lenore six questions to understand what factors she considers when she looks at potential candidates for Trendlines Agtech.

Q 1: Where are these inquiries from?

We assess about 200 potential start-ups each year from two main sources. The first is the technology transfer offices of universities and research institutes. They submit lists of their available technologies; from these, I choose a few to look at in more depth. The second is applications from agricultural or food technology entrepreneurs, who may be experienced agriculturalists, engineers, researchers, or businesspeople. Trendlines Agtech, as Israel’s most experienced agritech and foodtech incubator, has established its name in the industry as a leader in agricultural technology investments.

Of these 200 or so inquiries, we only establish 4 to 5 new companies every year, so the vetting process is very thorough. The competition is steep!

Q 2: Why would an entrepreneur or inventor with a really great idea in the agricultural technology space want to join a government-franchised incubator?

Many early-stage agritech entrepreneurs don’t have the ability to finance their own project with personal funds or those from friends and family. Other financing channels such as angels or VCs may be difficult to tap into for two reasons: (1) These projects are still too young and risky, and (2) the agricultural and food technologies sector is relatively new to the investment milieu. Joining an incubator is often the most viable option for such projects. Israeli incubators are willing to invest in higher-risk projects because they can leverage government funding. For agritech entrepreneurs, an incubator focused on this sector is likely to be more receptive and will provide more added value.

Additionally, the process for developing an agricultural technology is often relatively complex and multi-dimensional. Trendlines Agtech provides added value for such projects: We leverage our network to help entrepreneurs augment their teams and reach relevant experts. The supportive community of entrepreneurs that operates in the incubator is another advantage. Business development opportunities are multiplied through our business network and connections the incubator provides. This may significantly increase the success rate of a company to secure follow-on funding.

Q 3: What are the main criteria you use when evaluating an entrepreneur’s idea for candidacy to the incubator?

  1. First and foremost, we want the proposed technology to address a clear unmet need in a significant market. To assess this, we consult with relevant stakeholders in the field, both in Israel and abroad.
  2. We will want to assess the differentiation and feasibility of the technology and the strategy to protect the intellectual property.
  3. The competition and business environment. We assess the ability of the idea to penetrate the market or attract global players in that market.
  4. The resources required to bring the product to market along with a critical assessment of the milestones that can be reached during the incubator period (two to three years).
  5. Last but not least, the entrepreneur or team leading the company. We make sure the person has the abilities and focus to push the innovation — and company — forward, and work well within the incubator framework.

Q 4: Why does an entrepreneur or an idea get turned away?

  • There are certain types of companies that are not suitable for us; for example, projects based on classical breeding.  There is not enough technological innovation in this field for such projects to be admitted to an incubator.
  • The market is too small — or the need is not clear enough.
  • The intellectual property and strategy for protecting it is important. Some agricultural technologies embody know-how that is best protected as a trade secret rather than a patent. We are quite open to such projects, however, if there is no competitive edge that can be protected, we probably won’t invest.

We realize that sometimes we will make mistakes. We’ve probably turned away projects or ideas that will go on to succeed. That’s all part of the game.

Q 5: What advantages does Trendlines Agtech offer to agricultural or food technology companies?

We’re the first agritech incubator in Israel and have led the way to create an ecosystem in agritech investments. Our portfolio companies span a range of diverse areas in agritech and foodtech; our experience in multiple fields is a big plus.

Through our intense involvement in our portfolio companies, and the fact our companies are located in our facilities, we provide and maintain an entrepreneurial environment for success. We also encourage cooperation between companies and have some successful examples of this.

The Trendlines Group has a staff of more than 30 to provide mentoring and knowledge sharing, technological knowledge and development assistance, business development, marketing communications, finance, and administrative support to enable the entrepreneurs to meet development and business milestones.

We provide access to our global network of connections and organize events such as our annual company showcase and road shows to boost our young companies, and we started the AgriVest conference to raise awareness and highlight Israel’s exciting agritech developments. At Trendlines Agtech, there is always someone on hand to point the entrepreneurs in the right direction.

Q 6: What advice do you have for an entrepreneur or inventor who is starting a new agricultural or food technology company?

  • Define your competitive advantage accurately by doing a thorough analysis of the market and the competitive landscape.
  • Consult with as many objective stakeholders as possible to understand the real needs and existing obstacles.
  • Understand the technological development required to develop the product.
  • Assess the challenges you will face all the way through.
  • Develop a proof of concept/initial prototype as early on as possible — at the minimum cost.
  • Outline a two-year work plan, including the intended achievements for that time frame.
  • Understand your IP position.

To hear from some of Trendlines Agtech’s companies, meet their teams or talk with Lenore and others on the Trendlines team, register for AgriVest 2015.

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