Acre AgTech: Ottawa County’s Farmers-Only Service for business, not dating

Acre AgTech: Ottawa County’s Farmers-Only Service for business, not dating

You’ve seen the commercials – a helpless, lonely, stereotypical-looking farmer is lost because he lives in a rural area and there are no country girls around.

The solution, of course, is

Suddenly, attractive women riding horses come out of nowhere and the man has a big grin on his face. His life is complete. He has a line-dancing partner.

I never liked these commercials because I felt like they sold farmers short. It conveyed farmers were only capable of wearing boots, cowboy hats, and driving a big truck covered in mud.

I disagree:

  • Maybe it’s because my dad grew up on a farm, became valedictorian, went on to college, then grad school, and became an environmental research chemist.
  • Or my father-in-law who grew up on a farm, went on to college, and became a human resources expert for many companies after mastering how to relate to and support people.
  • Then there’s a family member who is still tied to the farm but interned in Washington D.C., attended college out of state and landed a nice corporate job in Indianapolis.

Just because you’re a farmer doesn’t mean your dreams are limited to your plot of land. Or the farmer’s market.

Farmers are smart. Adaptable. And, wait for it, innovative.

That’s right, innovative.


Investing in farmers

Thankfully, there’s an organization in West Michigan that recognizes their intelligence and wants to help farmers occupy fresh, expanded roles in the business community.


The new, improved ACRE AgTech.

Formerly know as the Great Lakes Ag-Tech Incubator, the nonprofit based in Ottawa County re-branded this week to ACRE, months after receiving a $55,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for marketing/outreach.

Holland-based Burch Partners led the effort and the results are astonishing.

The new logo and Web site are clean, professional and, most of all, clear. Great Lakes Ag-Tech Incubator sounded like government language, ACRE sounds like startup language.

A textbook public-private partnership.

Burch Partners was excited.

So was ACRE.

The re-branding made it clear that ACRE supports farmers and agriculture entrepreneurs taking their “equipment, tools, machinery, software, or other specialized products” to the market, according to its site.

“We have the experience to help entrepreneurs navigate barriers, connect with opportunities, and access the expertise they need to grow their idea into a thriving business. This ACRE is AgTech Connections and Resources for Entrepreneurs: a place for the creation and production of emerging ideas in today’s agricultural economy,” the site says.

There’s no start-up fee, but ACRE clients agree to “sign over 2 percent of sales to pay retroactively for its assistance,” according to the Holland Sentinel.


The history

Ottawa County is one of the top agriculture-producing counties in the state. When county leadership began searching in 2010 for ways to encourage job growth, its Planning and Performance Improvement department suggested a business incubator for agricultural technology.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded Ottawa County a grant to study the feasibility of an incubator, MLive reported, which confirmed there was a critical mass of entrepreneurs who needed assistance with transforming ideas into actual businesses. A pilot program then followed.

Great Lakes Ag-Tech Business Incubator, now ACRE, officially launched in December 2014 under the guidance of Mark Knudsen. It received attention throughout the country, including Entrepreneur Magazine.

“Many agricultural-technology entrepreneurs are farmers who’ve taken to their garages or workshops to build mechanical devices that solve common agrarian problems, ” the magazine wrote. “(The incubator) doesn’t corral startups into a communal workspace. Instead, participants work solo at home, periodically meeting with mentors in county government conference rooms.”



The future

Looking ahead, I think ACRE has a bright future. Why?

The agricultural-technology incubator has a five-person staff now.

It has a star-studded board of directors.

A professional re-branding.

Out in the community, people are talking about it. Young, aspiring entrepreneurs are working with ACRE as they try to launch innovative, farm-focused products.

Now it just needs more entrepreneurs and more counties to join the effort.

So ignore the commercials.

City folk do get it.

Farmers got it going on – and yes, we’re talking business.

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