Pilot program provides economic incentives and operational support to jump-start innovative companies

Five Maryland start-ups took a big leap forward to launch their respective businesses and establish Maryland as a hub for emerging agriculture and aquaculture technologies. Admitted to the first F³ Tech Accelerator, the cohorts accepted into the four-month program were selected based on their readiness to enhance the state’s F³ Tech (an acronym for Farm-Fish-Food) sector with innovative products and services that address market-driven challenges.

The F³ Tech business development initiative is designed to leverage Maryland’s traditional farming and seafood industries. The program guides entrepreneurs from proof of concept through commercialization, customer acquisition, revenue stream development, and investor attraction.

From producing nutraceuticals to sustainably removing poultry litter, the inaugural class members are based in Baltimore but depend on their relationship with rural communities to attract customers. They include: Algen Air (enhancing interior air quality through algae); Biotrophics (building insects with more protein to replace traditional feed); Cykloburn (making money for farmers by harvesting chicken litter); HiveLend (connecting beekeepers and farmers to increase fruit production); and VakSea (developing healthier and safer shrimp for the American market).

F³ Tech is spearheaded by a consortium of public, private and academic partners under the leadership of Executive Director Mike Thielke.

“The F³ Tech Accelerator is an aggressive accelerator program uniquely designed to commercialize agriculture and aquaculture technologies that improve how we manage production, distribution, and consumption of food,” said Thielke. “Our inaugural class demonstrates Maryland has the talent base and technological innovations ready to launch into the market place with expert mentoring, targeted support, and industry specific networking.”

Thielke – who also runs the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center – became an avowed F³ Tech evangelist after discovering that a sector focused on Maryland’s traditional industries provided a strong foundation for emerging food and farm technologies. Recognizing that agritech and aquatech start-ups would benefit from a supported ecosystem, F³ Tech mounts various programs tailored to the agriculture and aquaculture sector including the Accelerator, Pre-Accelerator, and symposiums.

HiveLend founder Dawn Musil was motivated to apply to the Accelerator because of her experience at the Pre-Accelerator in early 2018.

“We worked on this idea previously in college and participated in a university incubator. Many people who understand technology and startups are unfamiliar with agriculture,” said Musil. “F³ Tech gave us an opportunity to be part of a program tailored to our needs at the intersection of technology and agriculture.”

During the 16-week program, participants receive intense support through weekly webinars on topics ranging from company formation to protecting Intellectual Property; regular on-site consulting sessions; and four weekend retreats focused on critical areas of interest to start-ups including product and customer validation, financial analysis and revenue development. The program is led by Christopher Hlubb whose diverse background in research; aquaculture and agriculture; product development; and international government relations, have been integral to the program’s expansion.

“F³ is focused on promoting the connection between rural needs and urban solutions,” said Hlubb. “Agritech is the fastest growing area of investment and we want to promote the needs in this sector as paramount to the future of our economy, demonstrating that technology will be needed to assure a sustainable future for local agriculture and aquaculture.”

The participants – who each received a $10,000 stipend for program travel and expenses – will exhibit at TEDCO’s Entrepreneur Expo on October 30 to present their companies to business leaders, investors and decision makers. The Accelerator program culminates December 20 at a Demonstration Day event at BWTech@UMBC where one of the five start-ups will receive a $25,000 investment.

Learn more about F³ Tech at the regional symposium – “Agriculture & Aquaculture: The Newest Emerging Technology Sector” – on Wednesday, November 28, 9am to 3pm, at the Universities at Shady Grove in Rockville. The free day-long forum is designed to advance awareness, foster partnerships, and create a shared understanding of market and industry needs in F³ Tech.

F³ Tech partners include Mid Atlantic Farm Credit, TEDCo, Rural Maryland Council, Tri-County Council for the Lower Eastern Shore, MARBIDCo, Midshore Regional Council, and USDA Rural Development.