From playing football at Harvard to building an AgTech startup in Nebraska, Jackson Stansell of Sentinel Fertigation shares his experience of founding an AgTech Startup.
Jackson started his collegiate career playing football for four and a half years at Harvard before heading to Nebraska for an internship in precision ag. Following the internship, Jackson moved to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to pursue his master's degree in Agricultural Engineering. While at UNL, he researched nitrogen management, leading to him starting Sentinel Fertigation in September of 2021.
Starting a business in Agtech has its own set of challenges. When working in the agricultural industry, startups have to be highly customizable. The challenge that arises with this, though, is you aren't able to touch every operation. Knowing your customer base is essential in starting a business in any capacity, but specifically, in AgTech, the customer base is very distributed and not always easy to reach. This challenge is relevant to anyone looking to build a startup in the AgTech industry.
While reaching and gaining credibility in this space can be challenging, Jackson and Sentinel Fertigation had a leg up by coming straight out of Jackson's research. Candidly, Jackson shared that this led to challenges from investors during fundraising. Investors want to see massive addressable markets, but Sentinel Fertigation couldn't always make that argument—they're working to address a subset of the market that is very complex and involves lots of data.
Challenges aside, Sentinel Fertigation had some significant successes in 2022. They signed a deal with Airbus and moved away from drone imagery toward satellite imagery for farmers. Additionally, Sentinel Fertigation has moved to five full-time employees, which has been huge for the company. Since launching their product in June of last year, one of the significant turning points for the company has been receiving commercial validation from results. This proved Jackson's findings from his research of improving nitrogen use efficiency by 25% and saving farmers more than 40 pounds of nitrogen per acre.
In Jackson's experience building an AgTech startup, his advice to future entrepreneurs is to be very intentional about how you want to grow from the beginning.
This includes how you fund your business, your growth rate, and determining how you want to be involved as a founder. This might mean carrying a lower headcount so you can be very intentional with capital, but your first step in your business often determines the road you will go down. Therefore, be very intentional in your actions.
First, this is where Jackson conducted all of his research, but to further that, he said it is because Nebraska is an excellent ecosystem for AgTech. When located in Nebraska, you are only one degree away from some of the prominent decision-makers in the agricultural industry.
Nebraska is a collaborative environment driven by a state full of people who support the AgTech industry. Therefore, if you want to build an AgTech business, look no further than Nebraska.
What is The Combine?
Invest Nebraska's Combine Incubator is a statewide initiative focused on supporting high-growth agri-food entrepreneurs through mentoring, commercialization support, physical incubation space on Nebraska's Innovation Campus, and a network of helping farmers and ranchers across the state. Invest Nebraska is a private, non-profit statewide venture development organization focused on high-growth companies in Nebraska and growing the state's entrepreneurial economy. Invest Nebraska works directly with entrepreneurs, researchers, and companies to help commercialize their technologies, launch and grow new businesses, and access needed capital.