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#14 The Role of Technology & Innovation in Agriculture- Steve Mantle



Steve Mantle, CEO of Innov8.Ag, shares with Ryan his journey to starting Innov8.Ag including experiences on working at Microsoft, going to UW, moving to Walla Walla and trying to cross-pollinate between industries to bring technology solutions to the agricultural areas in the state of Washington. Steve also emphasizes on the importance of collaboration with growers to find viable technological solutions to the problems in their field.


Listen to Steve as he shares with Ryan the exciting ways in which technology is revolutionizing the way crops are grown and its future impact.


Show notes:

Innov8.Ag

Yup.com


Key points:

1:20 How his passion for tech and business surged

2:40 Starting in Microsoft

5:40 MBA experience at UW

8:08 Connecting tech industry with agriculture in Walla Walla

12:00 The importance of partnership & collaboration

15:21 The goal of Innov8.Ag.

17:55 Smart Orchard

25:20 Embracing technology in agriculture

26:40 How they market Innov8.Ag

28:20 Competition in technology & agriculture ecosystems

29:55 How to get started in this field

33:50 Future growth of Innov8.Ag


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Full transcript:

Ryan Dye (00:00):

From CoLab INC., it's There to Here, a show about entrepreneurs, innovators and mentors and the impact they seek to make on the world. I'm Ryan Dye, executive director of CoLab.


Ryan Dye (00:10):

On today's show, we talk with Steve Mantle, CEO and founder of innov8.ag. A tech startup based in Walla Walla, Washington that is partnering with Microsoft to enable growers to make informed on and off farm management decisions based on machine learning and AI-based insights.


Ryan Dye (00:27):

Steve has an MBA from the University of Washington and spent the past 12 years working in various product development and management capacities at Microsoft. Steve, thanks so much for joining us today.


Steve Mantle (00:39):

Absolutely, Ryan. It's always good to see you.


Ryan Dye (00:41):

Absolutely. We'll just kind of jump in here and maybe you can tell us a little bit about your background. Did you always have an interest in technology and business development?


Steve Mantle (00:50):

Oh boy, good question. Tech was early on. I think it started with an uncle that I had who was an electrical engineer. He encouraged me early on to do tinkering with different things and that just stuck with me.


Steve Mantle (01:03):

On the BizDev side of things, I'd say, just taking that tech piece and applying it and figuring out how all the different pieces tie together in terms of making an impact, certainly at Microsoft. Before Microsoft I was in sales engineering and business development roles there, as well on more of a network equipment manufacturer side of things. So yeah, I'd say the last 20-plus years have been focused in that area.


Ryan Dye (01:33):

Now, with your undergrad, did you do a degree in business or something more tech related or computer related?


Steve Mantle (01:39):

I was the geek that you could find in the computer lab that was tinkering, at Andrews University for some of my undergrad. I was so excited to be back there in Michigan and using Unix back then. And finding people at University of Washington that you could reach out to and talk to via ... it wasn't called instant message back then, but that was pretty fun stuff. But yes, I was a business degree for undergrad, but still really had my tech boots on along the way as well.


Ryan Dye (02:13):

Yes. That sounds good. I think that when you're in college it's important to try to diversify and really get to know different opportunities on campus. You can take certain skills or if you're just doing one major but have friends in other majors, that's really important in getting to know different aspects of where you might go in business down the road.


Steve Mantle (02:35):

It is and diversifying along the way.


Ryan Dye (02:37):

Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. When you started with Microsoft, what were some of the projects you worked on?


Steve Mantle (02:46):

Hmm. It was kind of a funny thing. First, I never expected that I was going to end up at Microsoft, despite living a mile or two down the road from Microsoft. I really thought of it more of as a company that was about Microsoft Office and what came to mind was a big yawn. I wasn't really compelled to work there.


Steve Mantle (03:04):

But when I found out that they had industry groups that focused on really that intersect of technology and business develop and working with different industries, and I had some experience in working with telecoms or communications companies like AT&T and Verizon, Deutsche Telekom and so on, I thought, "Wow, this could be interesting."


Steve Mantle (03:25):

Where they have this telecom group that's building solutions to bring together Microsoft technologies and that phone company and take advantage of the channel, if you will, that the phone companies have all around the world, and be able to do that where you're leveraging, say Telstra in Australia or NPT in Japan. That was fascinating to me, just the scale.


Steve Mantle (03:50):

I interviewed for a few different jobs, landed one, and it was focused on ... basically it was a business development role around connected services framework, which no longer exists. It was about taking old legacy technologies that phone companies have and kind of layering it to this web services layer, to connect it into web services.


Steve Mantle (04:14):

I showed up on day one and said, "Great. I'm ready to go." They said, "Well, actually, you're going to be doing something totally different."


Steve Mantle (04:27):

That's kind of what could happen with some of these big companies, I've heard. You've probably all heard stories, where you show up and the manager that you interviewed with is no longer there.


Ryan Dye (04:34):

He's not there anymore.


Steve Mantle (04:34):

Reorg has happened.


Ryan Dye (04:37):

Right.


Steve Mantle (04:38):

Sadly, that can happen with one of these big companies, but it still was in the same realm, just a slightly different goal.


Ryan Dye (04:44):

Right. Well, I would imagine too in technology, I mean a company like Microsoft, as things change rapidly in this area, you've got to be able to adapt. So yeah, personnel could change. Whatever project you may have started on is not the project you end on because it's-


Steve Mantle (05:01):

Global pandemic could happen. I mean, who knows?


Ryan Dye (05:03):

Precisely. Who knows what gets dropped in on us?


Steve Mantle (05:05):

Right.


Ryan Dye (05:07):

So you have to be flexible. I think that's a key [inaudible 00:05:12].


Steve Mantle (05:13):

That is true. It's choose your own adventure and sometimes the adventure chooses you. Don't let it get too far out of control is my thinking.


Ryan Dye (05:23):

Well, as a side note, you did an MBA at the University of Washington. I also did a graduate degree at the University of Washington. Different department, but I thoroughly enjoyed my experience there. Did you find that they had a program that you really thrived in or was beneficial or was it just kind of another stepping stone, as far as education goes?


Steve Mantle (05:41):

Well, so I looked for a few different MBA programs and University of Washington was one. Seattle U was another. I lived in Seattle at the time. I had children and needed to basically do something that could coexist with supporting a family. So, I looked at evening MBA programs.


Steve Mantle (06:05):

There was a technology MBA program, and then there was a executive MBA program. I chose the latter, largely in that it had people that had, typically at least 10 years of industry experience. So, you had this group of folks that had often already had master's degrees as well and we're just adding the MBA piece.


Steve Mantle (06:29):

So, really rich discussions, where we could all learn from each other and have good debates. I think the professors actually enjoyed signing up to teach those programs because of just the liveliness and perspectives that could bring, basically in some cases. I had one professor that would basically tee up a question and then he'd sit down and he would say, "Emote." And then we would all just go back and forth, back and forth. It was a lot of fun.


Ryan Dye (06:57):

That'd be fascinating, for sure. I know we'll have listeners who have probably worked in different careers for a few years and might be considering, especially now, "Should I go back to school? Should I pick up another degree? Can I afford it?," et cetera.


Ryan Dye (07:11):

I think those are questions that are worth asking, because anytime you can further your education or at least connect and network with other people can be beneficial.


Ryan Dye (07:18):

I know a lot of schools now ... I mean, a lot of them have had these online programs, but that's going to become more and more popular I think, as people look to how they can add additional education and do it efficiently and affordably. So, I would imagine being able to connect with colleagues who have already had some years of experience can be quite engaging, I would find. So, that's a good thing to tuck away.


Steve Mantle (07:45):

Makes a massive difference. Agreed.


Ryan Dye (07:48):

After several successful years at Microsoft, you and your family decided to move from the hustle and bustle of Seattle to Walla Walla, Washington in Southeastern Washington. That is a part of the state that is heavily focused on agriculture and what a perfect place to connect your tech background with the Ag industry.


Steve Mantle (08:08):

Very true.


Ryan Dye (08:09):

So as you went to Walla Walla, were you planning, "I'm going to go start a company here," or, "I just want to move and we'll see what happens"? What was that transition like?


Steve Mantle (08:21):

When we chose to move, I was still at Microsoft. My wife and I, Mariah and I had been feeling like it was time to make a change when it came to family and be closer to one or both sides of the family. So, we looked at a few different places. Bend was one, Eugene was another. And then Walla Walla, my parents had retired there, so we said, "All right, this just makes sense."


Steve Mantle (08:47):

I commuted back and forth to Microsoft for about a year. And no, I didn't know when I got here that I would jump into Ag. Now, I've been tinkering with Ag from behind a desk, if you will, as much as you can. I had a very light Ag background, having just done some Ag farm work in my teenage years and having a couple of grandparents who had a biology background, that had really kind of imprinted on me the need to be engaged with the plant life around us, if you will.


Steve Mantle (09:22):

So got here. And the short answer is, I missed this water cooler talk that I would have every day at Microsoft, when I was commuting back and forth. So, I went to one of the community leaders here and said, "Todd, how do I connect the dots? I'd like to do something with Ag and tech, but I really don't know how to engage in with this community. What are your thoughts?" He said, "Well, let's go to the community college," and so off we went.


Steve Mantle (09:47):

I sat down with the president of the college and one of the deans. They said, "Well, we've got an Ag program. We just started the first four year Ag program in the United States." I said, "Great, let's talk through that."


Steve Mantle (09:59):

They were eager for more engagement on how they evolve their curriculum obviously and direction. So, we agreed that we would work together to bring in Ag, or basically farmers that had typically at least 5,000 acres or more of farm and were more progressive farmers and do a round table for two or three hours.


Steve Mantle (10:24):

I brought in somebody from my team. We also brought in a Microsoft partner. We had this dialogue around, "Hey, here's all the different cool things that you can do with tech. You have blockchain this and supply chain this and artificial intelligence. But ultimately, what do you really care about, growers?"


Steve Mantle (10:41):

They came back and they said, "Well, we just care about the weather. We each have 5,000 plus acres, non-contiguous, so all over the place. We've got heavy equipment and labor that we have to drive all over the place and manage, and we really just struggle with resource management based on weather."


Steve Mantle (11:01):

That was really kind of the construct of, "Okay, I think we've got something here." Microsoft had some reorgs. And with that reorg, I just said, "Okay, I'm going to pull the ripcord and jump out," and effectively go out and start an Ag tech startup.


Ryan Dye (11:22):

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Wow. That's a leap of faith.


Steve Mantle (11:22):

Let me tell you, it still is, Ryan. It still is.


Ryan Dye (11:25):

Well, you've kind of answered my next question. But as our name suggests, CoLab, we work to encourage collaboration across various disciplines and skill sets. This is really key, I think, to building a strong business enterprise or developing a solution to a challenging problem.


Ryan Dye (11:43):

With innov8.ag, you have proven this to be true by connecting technological advancement with scientific research in agriculture, with schools such as Washington State University and Oregon State University and Walla Walla Community College.


Ryan Dye (11:58):

Talk a little bit about that partnership. You had this round table with these different folks in different industry, but were you able to say, "Okay, I see that we need to start something here, where we can connect these dots. Now I need to bring in the partnerships to get those pieces growing and hopefully working towards solutions"? I'm sure that wasn't an easy process and you're probably still working on it.


Steve Mantle (12:23):

It wasn't. While I still had my Microsoft hat on, we had brought in a Microsoft partner actually based out of Australia, to work to connect those dots. They're connecting those dots still today, down in Australia, quite successfully.


Steve Mantle (12:37):

It has been a journey on figuring that out, but the right recipe, I believed. There was this disconnect between academics and research and the growers and what they actually need and then technology. All three of those communities, if you will, not entirely being on the same wavelength as to what they need from each other. So, you're darn right.


Steve Mantle (13:08):

On our customer pitch and investor pitch deck is a slide that basically has growers and technology and the university. Actually, I just call it education because I believe there's more aspects to it, around enabling and educating K through 12 when it comes to Ag and technology as well.


Steve Mantle (13:31):

Where it became really clear was going to the annual conference. We chose to work in apples for our initial foray in permanent crops. I went to their annual conference that they have. Last year it was in Wenatchee.


Steve Mantle (13:45):

I tell you, for some of these listeners, all of us have gone to our first conference or first event, or maybe it's our first day at school, whatever it may be. You feel like you're just a fish out of water. Right?


Ryan Dye (13:56):

Right. Right.


Steve Mantle (13:56):

You're just not in your element and they're almost speaking a different language. It's like, "What am I doing here?" type thing. So here I was. It was all these growers, a couple of thousand of them, that all knew each other quite well. A bit of an old boys club of sorts as well.


Steve Mantle (14:14):

You had these researchers from WSU and other universities, that were talking from the podium in these different breakouts. But there was this disconnect there, where I could see where the researchers were bringing their research, that they've worked on for in many cases, decades, but for the last year or so. We're talking about it and then you'd hear the growers nodding and so on and so forth.


Steve Mantle (14:39):

They'd go off on their coffee break and they'd say, "Well, these guys don't know what they're talking about. They don't get out from behind a desk. They've never been out to my farm. What do these guys know?"


Ryan Dye (14:50):

Yeah, they haven't been into the trees.


Steve Mantle (14:52):

"It's great they got up, but their algorithm or whatever crop disease model that they've built, it wouldn't work in my place. But it's great to see you again, Jimmy Bob." Right?


Ryan Dye (15:02):

Yeah, right.


Steve Mantle (15:05):

What part of our focus is, is using technology to help those two sides actually better communicate in almost real time, as we're evolving to, so that a grower can state what their challenges are. All of their environments are a little bit unique to each other, which is part of the challenge of this business.


Steve Mantle (15:28):

And then the scientists and researchers actually can do work around it, but now have this really tight feedback loop, to your point in collaboration and use technology as a way to actually have the growers be able to provide almost real time feedback as to, "Hey, this is how I modified your model to actually work for me." Now, these guys can learn how to actually make their model better and ultimately more applicable and customizable to their community.


Ryan Dye (16:00):

That sounds really important, that you have a healthy channel of feedback both directions, so that you can modify whatever technology you might need to utilize or incorporate, or, what is the information I need to share? Because otherwise, you might all be wasting your time if those things aren't connecting efficiently.


Steve Mantle (16:19):

There's a boatload of data when it comes to agriculture, as well, as I increasingly discover.


Ryan Dye (16:25):

For sure.


Steve Mantle (16:26):

And again, with those environments being all slightly different, even with the weather alone. Think about, how often do meteorologist get the weather right? It's kind of a joke. We all go back and have our coffee in the morning and say, "All right. Does the weather guy get it right today or not?"


Ryan Dye (16:44):

I lick my finger and go outside. We'll see. I can tell you what the weather's like.


Steve Mantle (16:49):

There's so many different variables that they have to take into account to even get it right better than 50% of the time. So, that's part of the challenge that growers have and that we have in working with growers, is to basically increase that confidence level for them and do that on a repeatable basis.


Ryan Dye (17:07):

Right. Well, you referenced this. I grew up in central Washington, actually in the town of Wenatchee. As you pull into town, there's a large sign that says, "Welcome to the Apple capital of the world."


Ryan Dye (17:19):

I grew up believing that. In fact, I grew up on Orchard Street. So having had that experience in an area where the economy is so dependent on fruit production, growers could have a make or break season, depending on like you say, the weather and what it may have been doing.


Ryan Dye (17:38):

A cherry farmer does not want it to rain. That's why they have all these fans, to get the water off the cherries. It splits all the cherry. And it's like, even though it might taste the same, it doesn't look right. It affects the bottom line.


Ryan Dye (17:52):

You have a program called Smart Orchard. Can you get a little more into the details of, what is that program and how does it help the orchardists?


Steve Mantle (18:01):

Yeah. The challenging thing, where we've talked about me being a bit of a technologist on the business side, and the two are always counterbalancing each other. And then sometimes too often, the technologist piece get ahead of the business side for me.


Steve Mantle (18:19):

We basically started by going to one of those growers that were at a focus group that we did. We put some sensors in, to really better understand and get our feet wet on nano climates, effectively. What is the variable variation on climate throughout a large orchard?


Steve Mantle (18:42):

We learned quite a bit from that and then we went to the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission. The Tree Fruit Research Commission is something that every apple grower in the state contributes money toward. They pay X cents into this state operated Tree Fruit Research Commission, and it's what it says. It's for basically investing in research in the industry.


Steve Mantle (19:06):

We said, "Look, we've got this data platform that we've built, to be able to pull in data from many different sources, particularly around sensor, IOT, internet of things sensor data. We basically want to be a data Switzerland, if you will, and help provide more value to growers and weather being one of those key things. What do you think? Where should we go with this?"


Steve Mantle (19:30):

Being that it's this grower operated commission, they first said, "Well, okay, why don't you actually go and show up for a couple more of our events and learn a little bit more?" They gave me a little bit of humble pie, basically. "Look, understand more about what's going on in the industry firsthand. Come and listen to us talking about research and where we are."


Steve Mantle (19:52):

That was great. It was amazing advice. So we did that through, I think it was probably over a couple of months, four days of just deep indoctrination ... and talk about a whole nother world, and then went back to them.


Steve Mantle (20:07):

They said, "Okay, great. What if we did this orchard project? We've got a project that's kind of halfway between Wenatchee and Walla Walla. You can call it whatever you want, but we've got a progressive orchardist that would be willing to allocate two 20-acre blocks for you to basically prove out what you can do."


Steve Mantle (20:28):

So, that's what we did. We specced out with them, bringing in a bunch of different sensor providers. So, we have everything from soil moisture sensors to multiple different weather sensors, above canopy if you will, in canopy irrigation sensors, that sense when irrigation turned on and off. Above ground, at ground, basically drip sensors and then above ground ... Sorry, above trees for cooling, and sap flow sensors, soil nutrient sensors. And then we overlay that in with satellite imagery that we pull in twice a week, and then drone imagery once every couple of weeks.


Steve Mantle (21:08):

Finally, we bring in LIDAR-based data. Many people say, "Well, what's LIDAR?" If you drive a car or have driven a car that has cruise control and you can set it and that does adaptive cruise control and basically makes up for the difference between you and the car ahead, that's what LIDAR is.


Steve Mantle (21:27):

There's this LIDAR sprayer that basically maps out what the canopy is, the tree canopy is, row by row as they're spraying the orchard, which they have to do quite often. So, we used that to tie the data together, fused together with the drone imagery and work towards recreating a 3D rendering of the actual orchard so that you can experience that, is directionally where we're going.


Ryan Dye (21:53):

Right. I would imagine the more that this gets developed, to get into the nano side of agriculture is really key.


Ryan Dye (21:59):

I know the last few years there's been an apple ... It's Broetje Orchards. I want to say they're outside of Yakima. They developed an apple called the Opal Apple, which is like a cross between a Golden Delicious and I don't recall what the other apple is, but it's become one of my personal favorite apples.


Ryan Dye (22:17):

I've found it's later in the season and I've asked some people, "How come this is later? Why is it so different?" Just because I was kind of curious, what's the science behind this? Because you're developing this new brand of fruit.


Ryan Dye (22:31):

My understanding is ... again, having grown up in Wenatchee, it's at a certain elevation, it has a certain kind of climate. It's relatively arid right on the east side of the Cascades. But some orchards that are, say in Chelan, which is at a little higher elevation has a little colder weather.


Ryan Dye (22:48):

So, certain types of apples grow differently there, or better. This Opal Apple has to be just right, with when it's picked and the weather experience, because generally it's got this incredible flavor. It's extremely crisp, but if it's not just right, it's not good.


Ryan Dye (23:09):

So, there's the just minuscule moment between success on this fruit and not, and it all has to do with ... I mean, it could be a hundred feet different in elevation or maybe it was five degrees different this season or whatever.


Ryan Dye (23:24):

I mean, my word, generally, it's just a guessing game if you were an orchardist 20, 30 years ago. You're just kind of crossing your fingers and hoping it all pans out. I would think this could elevate your success rate, so that you have a better yield and more profitability.


Steve Mantle (23:42):

Right. Right. I mean, we call it data-informed farming ultimately. The catch is, you have to fuse together what you're seeing from the data with the grower knowledge. If you try to do those two separately or not in ... again, back to CoLab and collaboration, then forget it. Because there's so much in that grower's mind that they've learned, and frankly in many cases, don't even know how to articulate because it's just so-


Ryan Dye (24:10):

It's just passed on from generation.


Steve Mantle (24:13):

Yeah.


Ryan Dye (24:13):

Yeah.


Steve Mantle (24:14):

Right. And they've been doing it for 20, 30 years type of thing. That goes from irrigation specialists, just knowing inside and out how ... And water is really critical, to your earlier point on there, just being so much variability. How much they water when and for how long, at different stages in the growth cycle, makes a huge difference on interestingly, not just the taste and quality of the apple.


Steve Mantle (24:44):

One of the things that's hard to measure until you get three, four or five months down the road after harvest, is how well it stores. Because if we all ate apples when they came ready in September and October, then we wouldn't have apples year round. Right?


Ryan Dye (25:00):

Right.


Steve Mantle (25:01):

So, a lot of it goes into storage. What they've found is, they have to get that perfect balance of water, not watering too much, not watering too little. That in itself is its own science, given all the different climate variations.


Ryan Dye (25:17):

You kind of touched on this, but do you feel that some growers have been slow to embrace the technology as a tool?


Steve Mantle (25:24):

Yes, in a nutshell. This goes across farming in general. There are many farmers, frankly, that are in the 70 plus crowd still. The last thing they want to do is look at their mobile phone or is some cases, even have their children tell them how to do things, despite them being the ones that may catch the farm.


Steve Mantle (25:51):

So, yes. That is a key challenge. That kind of goes back to us originally, when we did that focus group or me saying, "Look, I want to talk to the more progressive ones."


Steve Mantle (26:00):

So it's finding those more progressive ones, but at the same time, I have one where the ownership is 80 plus, but the operators are in their thirties and forties. The ownership says, "Look, I don't want to invest in this technology at all." The younger crowd says, "Well, look, we don't have any choice but to do this, if we're going to be more competitive internationally and globally," with China and these other places, that really are threatening Wenatchee being the apple capital of the world.


Ryan Dye (26:31):

No kidding.


Steve Mantle (26:33):

Right.


Ryan Dye (26:33):

Yeah. Do you go out to find clients or do they find you, or is it I mean, both directions, as you grow the business?


Steve Mantle (26:41):

Yeah. That's a great question, as I'm poised to do a road tour next week. It's a bit of both. It's finding the blend between doing some press, doing videos. I'm quite blessed to have a fantastic videographer and marketing team that are recent graduates from Walla Walla U.


Steve Mantle (26:59):

They do a great job of helping on that, pushing out newsletters. We've gotten two or three different articles in the press. We were just featured in two farm news sources, one called Agra Times Northwest, that nobody's heard of except for farmers.


Steve Mantle (27:13):

If you go online to their website, they don't have any articles. It still kind of confounds me. It's all printed paper, but there's a couple of thousand growers that read it every week. So, we were lucky enough to be featured there. And then another one called Good Fruit Grower, read by all of the apple growers that are out there as well.


Steve Mantle (27:34):

So it's that, but there's nothing like actually being out in front of a grower, in their orchard and hearing what their challenges are firsthand. Being real, being humble and taking notes and asking, "Well, what works and what doesn't work? What do you like to see? Can you just call bologna on me on this being a waste of time?," because you want them to call your bluff. This isn't about hurting my feelings. Come at me hard and tell me what's wrong so that we can fine tune and get it right for you.


Ryan Dye (28:07):

Well, I think that's the ultimate, is working together to find solutions to challenges.


Steve Mantle (28:11):

Yeah.


Ryan Dye (28:12):

I mean, you're not going out to try to just sell some product that may be an orchardist doesn't need. Are there other major tech or even minor tech companies that have seen the value in encouraging further development between tech and agriculture? Is this a crowded space or are you kind of in a new frontier?


Steve Mantle (28:32):

It is a crowded space. Agriculture, as I really rolled my sleeves up, as an ecosystem, it's a vast area because that includes food production. It includes all sorts of food. From grains to corn, to sunflowers for sunflower seeds, the list just goes ... to cattle and dairy. The list just kind of goes on and on.


Steve Mantle (28:59):

So, we looked to really hone down on what space has higher margin per acre and a large amount of labor in terms of the inputs that go into it and then perhaps other resources. Large amounts of other resources like chemical and water. Not as much innovation and not super crowded. That's where we ended up with apples.


Steve Mantle (29:25):

It also helped, we looked at the crops in Washington state, where we're starting and it is by far the number one crop in Washington state when it comes to revenues.


Ryan Dye (29:35):

That's interesting. Would you say that there's strong career opportunities for those looking to combine the knowledge of business, technology and agriculture? And if so, what would you recommend to a young person in a university or a trade school setting, on what to focus on before they graduate.


Steve Mantle (29:52):

Math.


Ryan Dye (29:53):

Math. That is key.


Steve Mantle (29:56):

I mean, keep it simple. That is really key. I mean, particularly if anybody's listening in K-12 or early on, I mean, math is so, so critical. I know it's hard. It doesn't come natural for many of us. But seeing that through, it is so fundamental for you, whether you're just have kind of pure business on or whether you are going all in.


Steve Mantle (30:20):

It's interesting. I've told the story to a few people. About a year ago, we posted three different jobs. We were actually at a hiring fair for interns. The three different roles that we posted, one was for graphic design, one was for marketing and the third was for data science. We posted all three roles on LinkedIn. And interestingly, on the graphic design and marketing front, we had a couple of applications. It was like, "Okay, interesting."


Steve Mantle (30:49):

The data science one blew up. I had these jobs posted three days for data science and I had 200 and some odd applications. Tons of interest when it comes to doing data mining, data science, and I'm connecting it with environmental science, if you will, and putting it to work.


Steve Mantle (31:08):

So again, back to math. Having that math and statistical background ... it doesn't have to be deep, but at least the context, that is critical for the next generation. Then obviously being able to get a little bit from behind a desk, if you want to do a BizDev thing. But I'm quite happy to have a data scientist, a couple of data scientists that prefer to be behind the desk all day long, crunching numbers and I'll give them the context.


Ryan Dye (31:33):

Wow.


Steve Mantle (31:34):

So yeah.


Ryan Dye (31:36):

There you go, kids. Get your math assignments done.


Steve Mantle (31:41):

No, it really is key. I've seen this even for our kids as well, is there are new ways. I mean, math, again can be so hard, but they literally have a tutor on demand that they use for math with their help.


Steve Mantle (31:54):

Yup. Yup.com. Here you go. A little plug for yup.com. Y-U-P.com. It is priceless in that our kids, when they're stuck on a homework problem can get this app, basically take a photo of it ... I was a little dubious of this at first. I'm like, "Wait a second here."


Steve Mantle (32:13):

But it's generally a group of college students or college grads behind the scenes and they help kids with their math. Tutors are graded themselves. Everything's recorded. They can go back and forth ... and their time is 24/7, not get answers, but they're forced to work through the whole process. I mean, their grades, particularly on their tests ... that's what I was so amazed by, just shot out of the water.


Ryan Dye (32:43):

As a dad of a 10-year-old and a 12-year-old, that will be the next app I put on my phone, because if I have to sit down and help my kids with math that I don't remember when I did this, I will go crazy. So that was worth its weight in gold. I appreciate it.


Steve Mantle (33:01):

Yeah, no, it's agreed. But again, it comes back to meeting in business, meeting people on their terms. Here's a quick little scenario of something that we did last week with Microsoft. "Why don't you send one of your workers down through one of your rows and take a video walking up and down it? And then I want you to upload that video and send it to me. Can you do that?"


Steve Mantle (33:22):

Ultimately, within a couple of hours, we can come back to them and give them a count of exactly how many, give or take 5%, apples they have in that row, just from that video.


Steve Mantle (33:34):

Okay. You're just asking me to take a video. That's it. That's about life. It's meeting all of us where we are in our journey and helping, collaborating to create new opportunities for each other.


Ryan Dye (33:47):

Exactly. Where do you see Innov8 in the next three to five years? What kind of impact can this have on the global food capacity? Do you see this going beyond the Northwest or what's your growth perspective look like?


Steve Mantle (34:01):

Three to five years. So first, one of the things that Microsoft taught me is when you build a business, you build for scale. So, you look at channels of distribution. What are your multipliers? What's the network effect?


Steve Mantle (34:16):

We do see ourselves spanning out beyond the Northwest, over time, by partnering with companies like Microsoft, that already have a global footprint. And then with partners, kind of back to distributors, whether that be your chemical suppliers, whether that be equipment manufacturers or sensor providers, they actually are predominantly where we see being our go to market.


Steve Mantle (34:42):

So if we had to knock on a door, the rest of our lives on farmer's doors and kind of beat them down and say, "Hey, look, this is what you need," or have that conversation on evolving their view on how to use this technology, we wouldn't scale.


Steve Mantle (34:59):

So again, back to meeting people where they are, it's taking advantage of people that already have relationships with those growers. So up front, there was no doubt, we're door knocking. I'm having dirt shoveled at me, in the face a little bit here and there and getting my hands dirty to make it real.


Steve Mantle (35:17):

But we're starting with apples. We then intend to expand into permanent crops. That category includes, oh, grapes, for example. Nuts are very resource intensive when it comes to water. They struggle with the disease a bit. And we all know that water is a challenge when it comes to environmental concerns. So, there's room for optimization in there.


Steve Mantle (35:38):

And then there's lots of labor and room for optimization, in part just due to labor shortages, not just about optimizing on cost. So, we're predominantly going to focus first on permanent crops. We may expand a little bit over three to five years, but we figure, get that right first.


Steve Mantle (35:58):

The other reason is there, is with a permanent crop, a grower doesn't have an opportunity to get it right really more than once or twice. If you underwater drastically something and you basically kill your plant, it's going to take you another three years to grow that tree and start over again. Whereas on corn or your traditional crops out there, wheat-


Ryan Dye (36:20):

Yeah, the cycle is shorter.


Steve Mantle (36:22):

... I mean, you've got a couple times a year that you can redo. So anyway, hence the permanent crop angle.


Ryan Dye (36:26):

For sure. Well, how can listeners follow your progress and how can they connect with you?


Steve Mantle (36:31):

Well, certainly going online. Take a look at our website, www.innov8. I-N-N-O-V, the number eight.ag. Or if that's too hard because people get confused with that, just spell out the word innovate.ag. That will also get you to our website. We've got blog posts, newsletters.


Ryan Dye (36:50):

For sure. Well, Steve, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us today. We look forward to keeping in touch and seeing all the exciting ways that Innov8 is supporting all the growers and companies across the country.


Steve Mantle (37:01):

Thanks, Ryan. It's really been a pleasure.


Ryan Dye (37:03):

Absolutely. I want to take a moment to tell our listeners that we'll be starting an exciting new series this fall, called CoLab Webinar Wednesdays. Similar to our podcasts, this one hour webinar series will feature some great personalities across our various areas of focus, such as nonprofit development, technology, film and media, lifestyle, real estate development and general entrepreneurship.


Ryan Dye (37:26):

We encourage you to attend these events, as it will give you a chance to ask our guests questions on how they got from there to here.


Ryan Dye (37:33):

Coming up on August 12th, we will be talking with Kenton Lee, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Because International. Kenton will talk about how little things can make a big difference and how he developed The Shoe That Grows. A shoe that lasts up to five years and grows up to five sizes to provide good footwear for growing children in underdeveloped parts of the world.


Ryan Dye (37:55):

On August 23, we will talk with 15-year-old entrepreneur and tech developer Alexander Knoll. Featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, BBC, NBC Nightly News, Sky News and Time Magazine, Alexander is an international speaker and developer of the Ability app. An app that helps identify accessible places for those with disabilities.


Ryan Dye (38:16):

The webinars will take place between 12 and 1:00 PM Pacific Time, on Wednesdays through the fall. To find out more on how to register, visit our website CoLabINC.org.


Ryan Dye (38:27):

Thanks for listening to There to Here. We invite you to check us out on all the various social media platforms and visit our website CoLabINC.org, to sign up for more information on the many upcoming events and the various ways we help promote the spirit of entrepreneurship.


Ryan Dye (38:43):

If you have questions or comments on today's episode or know someone who would be a great guest on our show, send your suggestions to ryan@colabinc.org. We would love to hear from you.


Ryan Dye (38:54):

Special thanks to our producer, Michael Webberley, editing by Tanya Musgrave and all the CoLab staff. Until next time, be well and God bless.



About us

We help innovators and entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life through coaching, mentoring and startup funding.

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contact@colabinc.org

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