A conversation with one of our EPIC prize winners, The Combine:
OTT: Congratulations on receiving $50,000 as part of OTT’s EPIC prize! First, please tell us a little more about your company/who you are.
The Combine: The Combine Incubator is an agtech focused support program that supports early stage technology companies in Nebraska. The program is lead by Invest Nebraska, a venture development fund that partners with the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to invest in early stage companies.
The Combine provides virtual commercialization curriculum, incubation space at Nebraska Innovation Campus, and mentorship from private sector industry professionals. While the industry focus of the incubator historically has been agriculture, an increasing number of participants have crossed over into energy and its economical extraction, conversion, transportation, and storage.
OTT: Will you give us a brief description of your winning program plan?
The Combine: The Combine seeks to continue to be the ‘hub of connectivity’ in the energy innovation space across Nebraska and the heartland. Current financial sponsors of the program such as the Nebraska Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Nebraska Farm Bureau, and the Daugherty Water for Food Institute recognize agricultures interconnected dependence on reliable and affordable energy and the continual innovation that is needed in the space.
Support from the Energy Program for Innovation Clusters has allowed for the Combine to increase the networking, mentorship and curriculum involvement of in-state participants from local energy and utility providers.
OTT: How has this program impacted your region/local community?
The Combine: More and more agtech innovation is very much integrated with energy efficiency and clean technology. A focused effort to expand our teams efforts in the energy sciences has drastically improved our incubation program.
We have one company that recently received an SBIR grant from the US Department of Energy.
FarmAfield Labs is a Combine Incubator company that builds solar mounting hardware that integrates with existing feeder cattle infrastructure to enable solar installations in low-cost areas that do not destroy productive cropland or natural habitat.
The solar venture was an expansion of its currently operating microfinancing platform. The company was awarded a Phase I SBIR from the Department of Energy in 2019 to explore the feasibility of increased photovoltaics in the cattle sector. FarmAfield has been in the Combine Incubator since launch and was awarded a $1 million Phase II SBIR from the Department of Energy in 2020.
We are now assisting the company with connections to the Nebraska Public Power District.
OTT: When it comes to lessons learned with building out your regional innovation ecosystem, what is one thing that has worked and one thing that has not?
The Combine: We purposefully elected not to take equity with our model as well as to accept companies on a rolling rather than a cohort model. This has worked well as it has enables us to be very flexible with each team in a case by case basis.
We are still working on the best path to engage out of state corporations that may not directly have a program or point of contact to engage with start up companies.
OTT: What does it mean to be an accelerator/incubator during the coronavirus pandemic? What is one lesson learned from this virtual experience?
The Combine: Finding ways to create organic connections and introductions is difficult but can still yield incredible results. Throughout the pandemic we held monthly zoom meetups with informal agendas just to keep each companies apprised on others progress and other local resources.
OTT: How can we stay up to date on the latest news or events with your company?
- Newsletter: The Combine distributes a monthly newsletter to subscribers about current news in AgTech, updates on companies in the incubator program, and other current events that may be of interest.
Thank you The Combine!
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