Episode 6: Staying operational while innovating

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 1

0:00:00 - Kirsten Diprose 

Innovation AG is made on the lands of the Gunditjmara and Wurundjeri peoples. We acknowledge the traditional owners of country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to elders, past, present and emerging.  


0:00:19 - Wayne Schild 

Over a four-day period, our crops suffocated and we lost 92% of what was our then budgeted revenue, equating to about $1.7 million.  


0:00:27 - Tim Clune 

When we try something new, we can sit down and brainstorm all the things that can go wrong, but when we put it on our patch, there will be things that will be unforeseen and have to be managed on the run.  


0:00:38 - Kirsten Diprose 

Hello and welcome to Innovation AG, brought to you by the Victoria Drought and Innovation Hub. I'm Kirsten Diprose. Innovation sounds fun and exciting and it is but it's also just a really hard slog a lot of the time. So this episode is all about how to keep the business going when times get tough or you're in the middle of implementing big changes, because the guarantee of any innovation journey is there will be unforeseen challenges. We'll look at this from both the farming perspective as well as from the AgTech startup space. Let's start with farming. Meet Wayne Schild, who is in the midst of a major innovation project, and it really all started with catching the farming bug as a kid.  


0:01:24 - Wayne Schild 

Both my parents grew up on dairy farms and we had a farm. We lived in town but we had a property out of town which is where I got a love for it. We relocated down to Melbourne and I desperately objected to that in the early high school years but had to go. Rapidly returned after Year 12 to enjoy four or five years of farmhand and shearing.  


0:01:47 - Kirsten Diprose 

Wayne Schild is the founder and owner of his family business Grange Garlic, which is near Hamilton in Victoria's Western Districts, a place famous for sheep, not garlic. But, as you'll soon find out, Wayne is not one for doing things the way they've always been done, and before garlic he had a completely different career entirely.  


0:02:10 - Wayne Schild 

I was a paramedic. That was a 15 year period of time, which was a wonderful opportunity to, I suppose, looking back now, I can see how it built a number of particular things in me. I used to say to students all the time because we'd often get a lot of students running with us I'd say we're a logic truck. People call us out to try to resolve a situation that they find themselves out of control in, and so instead of dragging all the equipment out and getting confused with all the systems and processes, policies and procedures which is easy to do when you're learning just, approach from the perspective of a logic truck and we just need to bring some logic to the situation and bring a result.  


0:02:49 - Kirsten Diprose 

When you told me that you were a paramedic I thought, geez, what a different career and how would that apply in what you do now? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought being a paramedic would give you incredible resilience and ability to think on your feet and ability to assess a situation and know what's needed.  


0:03:08 - Wayne Schild 

Probably a poor sense of humour is another attribute to laugh off problems, but certainly for me it was probably one of the key drivers of why we've ended up doing what we're doing is because in the farming side of it, in finding this venture, I wanted to do something that mattered. When I think about it now, of course, the two things that really matter in life is food and medicine. It's a bit ironic that I've sort of chosen both of those.  


0:03:34 - Kirsten Diprose 

Wayne grows garlic on a 120 acre property and given the size of the farm he knew that to be viable he had to be innovative from the outset.  


0:03:44 - Wayne Schild 

It was a matter of what are we going to do with 128 acres? I'm realising now, later in life that I've probably been somewhat of an ideas person. One of my classic mistakes was that it's great to have an idea but you don't act on the idea, and so when we moved down here, I was quite deliberate to not just jump straight into acting on an idea, create a plan that was something quite new to me and then act on the plan, not the idea. So that was what we tried to do. I looked at a number of ventures. Obviously it needed to be fairly sort of intensified to be viable, because a grazing operation or cropping was not realistic.  


We looked at a number of different things and then I forced myself to push them to trial. We did a meat direct venture for a couple of years which was very positive, but it had some major stumbling blocks with not having control - trying to go through a third party processor that of course the customer based totally delighted in the product. So that was lamb. We also pushed into port. The difficulties in trying to control the middle bit just made the whole venture unviable, which was frustrating because there was an awful lot that went into developing that and I watched a number of other people who were ahead of us doing that and just analysed it and thought, well, relatively low barriers of entry and also they were doing an exceedingly good job of it and I couldn't see how I could create a point of difference. Whilst we did trial that and it was good to experience it, all the while we were sort of in the background with garlic, it started to really come to the fore.  


0:05:12 - Kirsten Diprose 

You started trialling garlic. What did you find about where you're growing it and the opportunities there?  


0:05:18 - Wayne Schild 

We're now into our eighth year. The first three years we were artisan. Hats off to all the artisan growers out there I know exactly what it's like. The main difference between artisan and commercial is they're effectively not mechanised by hand. Hand sowing, hand weeding, hand harvesting. They sort of define themselves by how many plants per year they grow. We started off with 500 or 600 plants and then we went to 5,000, and then we went to 17,000 and that was our third year and I said stop, we're not doing this anymore. Which is the known ceiling that every artisan grower hits at around that three to four year mark. Trying to build scale without mechanisation is just impossible. Now we're planting it over 300,000 plants per hectare. The scale is just very, very different.  


0:06:04 - Kirsten Diprose 

So two major shifts here that Wayne's gone through. Firstly, the product going from meat to garlic and then, after a few years, shifting from planting by hand to mechanisation. So how did he do it while remaining viable? Let's start with the garlic.  


0:06:21 - Wayne Schild 

There's really no industry. There's a handful of commercial growers in Australia. They are all predominantly focused on fresh loose garlic. Their development has been trying to create a 12-month supply of Australian fresh loose garlic. That's highly problematic. Many issues in relation to it. Observing what they were doing, I couldn't really see the point coming in behind them.  


Looking at our region, couldn't believe the opportunity that garlic actually wants to grow here. Out of all of the varieties that we have available in Australia, all, bar one, we can grow reasonably successfully, whereas up in Queensland there's simply really just a subtropic variety that they can actually successfully commercially grow. We've just succeeded in achieving a water licence. That's a pretty exciting thing for us because we know that that'll certainly provide some more stability and yield, which is what irrigation does. But up until now we have been broadacre dry land and there's really no horticultural examples of that. We plant into raised beds because it's a winter-based crop. We keep it up out of the water during winter but our growing season is a little bit longer than others but that helps to build that flavour profile and just a little bit slower growing and maturing. Our environment here is perfectly suited.  


I couldn't believe the absence of an industry and the complete domination and or reliance on importation. We are the only fresh-minced garlic available in Australia. If you like to think of it as wet-minced garlic, the domination of that by China is to the tune of 97% of the world-exported garlic. It's just incredible, the complete market domination that they have. And just to add to that surprising statistic when I realised that the second biggest grower in the world is actually America, but they too only produce about 15% of what they consume themselves. So the wet-minced garlic availability in Australia is all from dehydrated imported garlic.  


0:08:23 - Kirsten Diprose 

It shows the importance of research. It's an amazing market opportunity that you've found. Tell me about that mechanisation, so that shift from being an artist to becoming commercial.  


0:08:35 - Wayne Schild 

I could see that the mechanisation equipment was available. It's just that it's all international and mainly coming out of France and Spain. And then, of course, the realisation that they don't understand horse power like we do in Australia, so their systems were sort of fairly single row and small, whereas I could see a tremendous opportunity to build scale. And so the DNA of Grange Garlic from its outset was if I couldn't establish a means of scale, we wouldn't continue. All the way along we've had that mindset.  


I could see in the onion and spud world that their technology of machinery and automation was hugely advanced and major self-propelled machines and huge tonnages that they could roar out of the ground, and so we invested in just some secondhand older equipment from that industry and then majorly adapted it with the help of one of the German manufacturers. They've been incredibly helpful along the way and very excited about this, if you like, new frontier of root vegetables. They can sort of see the opportunities, and so we built some prototypes and then validated that and so now we're whole bed harvesting six rows simultaneously at about 7.5km an hour. That surprised the Germans, that the Australians actually went and did it.  


0:09:55 - Kirsten Diprose 

Wait, hold on. There were no machines to harvest the garlic, so Wayne just organised for them to be built for him and tried out the prototypes along the way. Yeah, that's innovation. I want to take stock for a moment, because Wayne's story has so many lessons for us about staying operational while innovating. So let's bring in Dr Tim Clune. He's a Senior Lecturer at the La Trobe University Business School and leads the agribusiness major. While Grange Garlic is far from textbook farming, the business principles are sound.  


0:10:30 - Tim Clune 

I think the key message is keeping your business afloat, making sure that you understand where you're going. You understand your business, you understand what the key drivers of your business are. Before you enter into the world of innovation. Get right what you can and know where any innovation you're going to look at is going to make a difference to your business. I mean, sometimes we get into the innovation space because we can. This would be a really cool thing to do. The question is, though we can innovate and make a change, is it making a change to our business? And if we reframe and think about, is it making a change to our business, then that's a great place to start.  


0:11:10 - Kirsten Diprose 

Sometimes it can be hard to stay motivated in making those changes when you've just got those pressing realities of keeping production going, you know whether it's getting the seed in the ground or harvesting or some of those big times where it's so hard to see beyond that. How do you balance the changes you want to make with just the realities of a business?  


0:11:30 - Tim Clune 

I think you need to think about the realities of the business. What are the elements that drive the business and are you on top of those elements? And yes, there are times where things are overwhelming. Time pressures, cost pressures and all the other pressures that come with staying afloat. And I think that having a strong focus on your business, having the plans, having a strategy, having a clear understanding of what you want to achieve in the short, medium and long term is critical in dealing with those other elements, because all of those pressures are there in your business. But if you're only focused on the production pressures, it's possible that you'll lose sight of business pressures and that's when things start to unravel.  


0:12:15 - Kirsten Diprose 

Wayne is all about his goals and vision and he says it's that clear strategy, as well as having good people involved in the business, as well as his broader network, that's helped him to get through the tough mid-innovation times when things don't go as planned. And Wayne has had to deal with a string of setbacks in a row.  


0:12:37 - Wayne Schild 

All of that trail work with the modified onion and spice equipment, we effectively destroyed most of the crop, trying to get it out of the ground. It was just far too aggressive, so that was a major setback. The following year, we were seven days out from launching our product when COVID hit, and so we had to make a decision to halt and just see what was going to happen, because at that point no one knew what was going to happen, and our main focus was certainly not retail, it was more food service and or food processes, and of course the food service industry was just put on its knees. So we wasted a lot of product and then flowed on into the following year no revenue, and so we ended up ploughing in half of that crop because we couldn't afford to harvest it. There is no agronomy support. There's just simply no knowledge. The handful of commercial growers they're all independent of each other and they hold their information very closely, which is so hard. One, I don't blame. There's an awful lot of pain in trying to find out how to do it. Yeah, we got the wrong agronomy advice and, through the potency of three different products mixed together, we sprayed it out 75% of the crop. And then we had one of our storage motors go down on one of our 40 foot reefer containers. Yes, it is about 250,000 worth of product that we lost. Quite literally, it was only off temperature by a couple of degrees for a couple of hours. We had all the backup systems in place, with full digital monitoring back to phones, alarm systems, backup power sources. We even had a spare container. We'd gone to the full extent because we were aware of the cataclysmic risk, and so it quite literally was only off temperature and into the next container barely a couple of hours. But that was enough for the garlic to wake up. So it all shot on us and we lost all of that. And then, just as we were starting to deal with all of these issues, last year we put in a world's best practice drying and storage facility and there was some unfortunate, poor advice that over a four-day period our crops suffocated and we lost 92% of what was there then budgeted revenue, equating to about $1.7 million.  


But to answer your question, it's other people. My attitude for the business is that I want everyone involved to thrive, because I want to thrive, and so my attitude is that if you're not growing people, you're not growing anything, and the people that we have around us is just extraordinary. As an example, I knew that there were a couple of smaller growers that had had some leftover seed. We'd lost all of our seeds. So seven years of the first three years, by hand, we'd been building and building and growing and turning our seed back into multiplying and building it all up to get to commercial quantities and we basically lost the lot.  


And so I went to them, knowing that they set aside their seed, and said look, don't waste anything. We only have in Australia the garlic that we have. And so these other growers very generously helped us out and donated. We were able to purchase a little bit of seed, but there's not much available, but they donated their leftovers and bits and pieces. So, yeah, we were able to put together a crop and that's really sort of shown this year is they really want a processor in the industry because they're otherwise vulnerable to a spot market and so that makes their certainties of revenue very unstable.  


It's people, it's relationships. Thankfully, I had a little bit of governance experience, which I think I got more out of that experience than what I was able to give, but it gave me a couple of insights. One was, at the start of the business, to establish the vision and mission of what we're on about. So our vision is healthy soils, healthy plants, healthy food. Our mission is the best people, the best equipment, the best knowledge and the best application of that knowledge, and our goals are to be nationally available. So if anyone wants to know what we're on about, that's what we're on about.  


0:16:48 - Kirsten Diprose 

That's the thing about learning on the fly. Mishaps and mistakes are going to happen. It's all about how you learn from them and bounce back.  


0:16:57 - Wayne Schild 

You know, Churchill said a long time ago that "Success is not final, nor is failure fatal. Moreover, is the courage to continue".  


0:17:05 - Kirsten Diprose 

Wayne has courage in spades, but we're not all Wayne Schilds, or at least we don't all start that way. Sometimes a change of practice on a farm is relatively small. I actually told Tim Clune about a recent change of practice I've made on my farm which doesn't quite measure up to building new harvesting equipment from scratch, but hey, I'm proud of it. It's basically using new software to help automate some of the employee on-boarding process. I knew the end result would be a happy 'Future Kirsten', because it would save her up to three hours of data entry every week. But present Kirsten was all,"Urg, I don't have time for this and it's hard having to learn something new and then implement and then show others how to do it".  


0:17:49 - Tim Clune 

You had a clear goal from making the changes. You had a vision of what success looks like and, having implemented those changes, you can now evaluate the relative success. And it seems to me that now Future Kirsten is now Present. Kirsten, the change has been successful, and I think it's that envisioning and having a clear understanding of the change you want to make, so that you can evaluate as relative success, is the important thing.  


0:18:14 - Kirsten Diprose 

Sometimes well, a lot of the time a big change involves a lot of other people. You know the other people on the farm. How do you bring people together with you, especially if it involves changing behaviours? Or the way things have always been done?  


0:18:28 - Tim Clune 

I think these are questions of leadership and management, and I guess in any business, there needs to be a leader within the business. Now, that might be the ownership team, it might be a broader family structure that oversees things, but there is someone who is saying this is where we're going and why and needs to be able to communicate the why. Once you can communicate the why, it becomes how do we get there? And becomes a management question, and that's when all of those skills around communication and engagement become important. If you're an owner operator, it's easy have a quick chat with yourself and you just remind yourself this is why we're doing it. But as the operation becomes more complex and is engaging, particularly outsiders, as part of that enterprise and goal, we need to enable the communication and engage people in the why. The why is just so important long before we get to the how.  


0:19:27 - Kirsten Diprose 

What does the research say about innovation on farms or in other types of agribusiness? Are farmers innovating regularly? Has innovation increased over time? What's the sense that you get?  


0:19:40 - Tim Clune 

There is a long history of on-farm innovation, leading research and indeed one of the outcomes of the way we currently do research, you know, engaging farmer groups and doing more work on farm has really been to help drive that innovation and improve it. But I think that there are different types of farmers. There are some farmers who have an understanding of, "This is how my business runs and I'm happy for it to run that way". There are other farmers who are incredibly entrepreneurial and see the farm as an income source really, and so there will be income that's derived from the farm, but these farmers are also having income derived from other areas and they're the two ends of the spectrum that we really have. But if you think about, we're a Nation with of the order of 88,000 farms, 88,000 individual businesses with their own aspirations, their own internal desire and relative entrepreneurism, and so this question of, "Generally what's happening in farming?", is quite difficult to answer because which farmers are you talking about? The research describes some farmers as essentially small business owners. They do what they do and they're happy for that and it's delivering on all their aspirations. And as I said, at the other end you've got really entrepreneurial farmers that the farm is an income generator are as part of their broader income generation. The degree of innovation is likely to increase the further you go along that spectrum towards the entrepreneurism. It comes back to understanding your business.  


"What is it that I'm trying to achieve?". If you don't know whether you've been successful, you'll probably make the same decision for the same reasons. There's no informed learning. I'll come back to your HR exercise. You had this idea of what Future Kirsten would think was valuable and you put in a plan to do that. And now you're evaluating it and Future Kirsten, who's now Present Kirsten, says "It's saving me three hours a week". Fantastic, it's the same thing when you look at it from a business perspective.  


"I'm going to make that change. Now, I might have to throw capital at it, I might have to throw equipment at it, I might have to do a whole range of things. It's really important that I understand what the benefit of that is", because once again I come back to where I was earlier. Just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean we should do it. And we start to think about measuring things. "What am I measuring? What value do I place on that?". And that enables me to think about, "What does it mean to be successful?". If you're saving three hours, but your software subscriptions and everything else are costing six hours worth of your time. Have you achieved anything?  


0:22:18 - Kirsten Diprose 

But if I'm saving that time to then be able to do higher order tasks that improve my business and generate more income, then I would say yes.  


0:22:27 - Tim Clune 

Exactly. But you've made a judgment there about, "Why am I doing this?". So you've evaluated what the input cost is going to be and what the benefit cost is going to be. It's a very simple transaction. You've gone to a stage where now, doing higher order tasks, you've value added to your time. That extra three hours you've go,t how you value that doesn't need to be economic. It might be more time with your family, which we can't put an economic value on and we shouldn't.  


0:22:55 - Kirsten Diprose 

So know what you're doing and why. And if we come back to Wayne, while there's been some pain involved in mechanisation and setting up his own processing facilities, he understands why he's doing it. For instance, you can buy minced garlic very cheaply from the supermarket, but he knows his point of difference is the quality of the product and the processing.  


0:23:17 - Wayne Schild 

We knew that from the outset, and it's one of the reasons why we need to push to scale, but also to our comeback line is, that it's a zero cost difference, because ours is quite literally, as you would peel it and chop it yourself, fresh garlic, and I would always say that a fresh product is always going to be better. I've never suggested a product is better than whole, fresh, loose garlic. But of course, there's the convenience factor and it's fiddly and it's messy and it's quite aromatic. That's the fundamental difference with our product is, as you said, it's quite literally, as if you'd peeled it and chopped it yourself. And I could see that there was no one doing any processing and so, as a point of difference, we did a lot of trial work and it's basically taken us seven years. Yeah, producing Australia's only fresh minced garlic.  


0:24:07 - Kirsten Diprose 

So there aren't many people doing garlic. But one change of practice which is happening on a number of farms across the country is regenerative agriculture. Broadly speaking, Regen Ag is about maximising carbon sequestration and the water holding capacity of soil. Some are calling it the new No Till as an example of a widespread on farm change of practice. How big the Regen Ag movement will become is unknown, but it's fair to say there are many farming systems in the country that are currently grappling with the realities of staying operational while making significant changes. Here's Tim.  


0:24:44 - Tim Clune 

The challenge of regenerative agriculture, a lot of changes need to be made, for some systems get into that space and there's a lot of engagement and discussion, just so people can understand what the difference is. What does it mean to my operating system? What's it going to mean to my staffing? What's it going to mean to my equipment? All of those sorts of things.  


I think where we have seen in agriculture, big changes, comes from the late 20th century, where we saw more conservation agriculture.  


We moved from long fallow type farming to conservation farming - retain stubble - for a whole range of really good environmental reasons.  


It created a whole range of unforeseen problems in terms of the equipment that we needed, the issues that would arise simply by trying to use narrow equipment in big stubbles and get across the amount of country that we needed to in the cropping window that we had, and that was a multi-decade transition. There were the innovators and then we had a group of individuals who have taken it up as they've seen it be successful. Those that are the late adopters had the opportunity to see all the challenges and how they were resolved, and their entry has been easier, I would argue. But this concept of unforeseen challenges is going to be fundamental to innovation. When we try something new, we can sit down and brainstorm all the things that can go wrong and we can talk to other people who've done it and those sorts of things. But when we put it on our patch, there will be things that will be unforeseen and have to be managed on the run. The challenge is to think of many of the things that we can see, first.  


0:26:23 - Kirsten Diprose 

What about, and again say, with regenerative ag, you might be building the farming system, which is going to take a long time, while also kind of betting on the mood. It could be consumer sentiment or markets opening up for specifically regenerate ag type products. You can't control that. So how do you kind of assess things as you're going along, when you're midway through and you're waiting for this magical market to open?  


0:26:51 - Tim Clune 

The thing about managing risk is control of things that you can control. So if there's a magical market that you're waiting to open, where is your product going now? Are you getting the best value for that product now? And so when the magic market opens up, you can divert your product. But if you don't have quality in what you're producing now, are you ever going to meet the magical market? And I think that being the best that we can be at any one time is really important. Control the things that we can control. Understand our business, produce the best quality product that we can that delivers on the aspirations of that business. And if this magical market opens up, have a look at how your product can fit in it. And if it doesn't open up, you're still the best that you can be at any one time.  


0:27:35 - Kirsten Diprose 

And if future markets are what you're chasing, or disrupting current ones, then you're definitely on the upper end of the entrepreneurial spectrum. Meet Emma Coath, who supports these entrepreneurial types, as Managing Director of RocketSeeder, an accelerator for early stage food and ag startups.  


0:27:53 - Emma Coath 

I think we're up to 160, 170 founders, individuals, and they all have their own journey. So we work with anyone doing something innovative in the food and agriculture sector. So we haven't actually supported anyone in the the fibre sector yet, but you know that's always in scope food and fibre. But anyone along the value chain. So it could be, you know, a producer with a good idea or a technology. Innovation comes from anywhere. We also work with researchers too, which is not so much helping them start a business to commercialise their research and technology, but just as much getting them into the ecosystem, because there's so many roles that they can play with the research and the experience that they've had.  


0:28:44 - Kirsten Diprose 

In the startup world, Emma says relationships are what get you through the hardest times, which is interesting because that's what Wayne said too.  


0:28:53 - Emma Coath 

Probably the past 18 months, two years, we've been helping some of our founders, our alumni, build, put together advisory boards, because what happens is once they start going on the startup journey, they get advice from all different places and particularly if they do an accelerator program like RocketSeeder or Sprout X or Farmers2Founders, or one based at university, then they sort of just get bombarded with advice and information and meet so many different people. Which is the idea of these programs is for us to share our networks with our startup founders. But it can be overwhelming. That's part of the, I guess, the skill of a founder is to determine who was values-aligned for a start, who was authentic in wanting to support you, whether it's an investor or whether it's an advisor or just someone to have a coffee with and talk to every now and again. But we sort of help people formalise that so that they're not sort of wasting their time. And they've got someone else there's an advisory board Chair and that person is their sort of liaison. So they're only really talking to one person and the Chair is helping them put together and manage this board and also gets them used to a more formal board as well and how to manage that board, because that's another skill in itself, is how to manage a board.  


Another thing that I really wanted to mention, too, is it's really important at the start of your journey to make sure that your family, or your personal situation, you've got people that are going to be supportive of what you're doing, and which is a little bit harder at the start of your journey because you don't know what it's going to look like. But it's fair to say, if you sort of go all the way, then it's going to be pretty challenging at times. You've got to have that sort of personal safety mechanism, if you like, that net when things go wrong as well. So you've got your professional support network and then your personal network when you have your really bad days and, honestly, every second day could be considered a bad day. You know, I didn't start RocketSeeder, but I've been there from pretty much the beginning, so it does feel like a startup. And also I co-founded an accelerator program in Singapore about four or five years ago. I'm no longer involved in it, but I do understand the startup process.  


0:31:21 - Kirsten Diprose 

The tricky thing about being a startup, particularly an early stage one, is you might not have a lot of revenue coming in, or any revenue at all, so how do you stay operational then if you realise you need to make a big change? Sorry, pivot, not change. Startup people love to say pivot. I asked Emma if she has an example of a founder who faced these challenges.  


0:31:44 - Emma Coath 

One of our startup founders in our first program in 2017 pivoted a number of times. They're a fantastic founder. The startup, maybe it was a little bit before it's time in Australia, great idea. But you know the same situation as a lot of startup founders and that's one of the things that we help them with. They may have a lot of people really interested in what they're doing, but are they going to pay for it and are they going to continue to pay for it? So it sort of becomes recurring revenue. So this person has pivoted a number of times, has been through a couple of relationship breakdowns along the way, which is really hard, but clearly really passionate about what they're doing. Lost a co-founder as well who decided that it was all a bit too much and wanted a steady stream of income. So it's been a difficult journey for this person, but still has maintained the passion and the drive and has continually pivoted and found other markets. That's something that we think is really important.  


In our programs, we use the business model canvas. The top right-hand corner of the business model canvas is the value proposition canvas, essentially. So that's where we start and that's understanding what your market segments are. So they may change over time. And that's where the pivoting comes in. A lot of people don't like that word, but it's actually really important to change your direction when things aren't working, when you're focusing on a particular market segment and just not getting traction with that market. So it's important to change and pivot. But it's a long process and it's hard to stick with it when things don't go well. But credit to this person, they've continued along.  


0:33:28 - Kirsten Diprose 

When things aren't going well, how do you know it's not a sign that it's because the business is just not going to work.  


0:33:36 - Emma Coath 

Yeah, that's really hard because and it's hard for us watching on because, after all, it's not our business, it's their passion, it's their baby, and so we can be honest to a certain degree. But coming back to having that sort of advisory board, if formalised, if possible, if not, at least you've got a number of people, if they're all sort of advising you or suggesting or hinting that maybe it's time to give up, then it's up to that individual to listen. But we would never say that to anyone because that's just nasty. To be honest, sometimes we think it's just not working, it's just not going to happen. You're thinking, oh, you've got that feeling in your stomach for them. But they come out fighting and they have another life and they get traction, and then all of a sudden, yeah, wow, they've got investors, which is a form of traction, investment. It's a long process.  


0:34:41 - Kirsten Diprose 

How important is the founder in this equation? I often hear VCs or accelerator groups like yourselves say the founder is number one, so that, yes, you've got to have all of those, the great business idea and all of those boxes ticked, but the founder is often what someone like a VC will pick on. That's what they'll decide on.  


0:35:03 - Emma Coath 

Yeah, definitely. Definitely it's about the founder, because we've seen people develop technologies that don't have any technical background yeah, there's so many examples of that. Then I know that a lot of technology and research doesn't go anywhere, it doesn't see the light of day. People may try to commercialise it, but, coming back to the founder issue, if you're not the right person, if you're not a good founder, then it's just not going to happen. So the difference is the founder or the founders, the ones, the people that commercialise the technology, and then that network around the people, the founders that commercialise it.  


0:35:47 - Kirsten Diprose 

Yes, so tell me about some of the qualities a founder needs to have to make sure that they're successful.  


0:35:53 - Emma Coath 

So they need to obviously be resilient, because you get a lot of knockbacks. You have a lot of bad days. Even the best of founders, the most confident of founders, have their bad days and often I hear about it, I get lots of text messages and things like that, but you know the next day or by the end of the day they'll have bounced back. Being able to bounce back in the face of adversity, which is every second day or day as a startup founder, I think they have to have the ability to listen as well.  


You'll hear a lot of people that run accelerator programs and the work with founders and VCs and so forth talk about this. We just know if someone's not listening or we can't get them to develop that skill - find their ears - then you know it's just not going to work because one person can't commercialise something very complex, or even if they've got one or two founders, so they have to, you know, take on advice, but again, the right advice and then do it every day. The best founders that I see are just learning every day. They're reaching out to people, they're contacting people not just in Australia but all around the world, and that's another big difference between a good founder and a not so good founder is that they'll have a global mindset and they will find people online and contact them and ask for meetings to sort of get as much information out of the best people as possible around the world, and they'll do that every day, without fail.  


0:37:26 - Kirsten Diprose 

Wow, that's really interesting about the global perspective too. Even if you're starting, say, small, you know often you start in your local area and grow from there, but you've got to think globally the whole time. Is that right?  


0:37:37 - Emma Coath 

Yeah, I guess you know the definition of a startup as opposed to a small business, and Launch Vic and other startup organisations talk about this all the time, is that a startup can be scaled globally. So it can develop rapidly, whereas a small business is more sort of a local, one-to-one relationships type of thing, more of a sort of bespoke arrangement, not looking to scale. The global mindset piece is learning what other people are doing in the other markets, so you're not replicating. If your solution is relevant to the US market, say in California, that's often a popular market for Australians, particularly, you know, in the Southeast area of Australia then you've got to look at what solutions are there. If possible, go over there. That's the best way, just so at that early stage people aren't building this big solution that 10 other people have already developed five or 10 years ago.  


And it happens and it's really horrible to see. You know people come to you and you go oh dear. You know there's lots of other people doing the same thing out there, but it doesn't mean we can't help them. It's just that their value proposition has to be different to everyone else in the market. 


0:38:51 - Kirsten Diprose 



0:38:53 - Emma Coath 

Yeah, well, that's right If they've put a lot of time and effort into it already. They definitely have to pivot.  


0:38:59 - Kirsten Diprose 

And if anyone knows anything about pivoting, it's Wayne Schild. It's taken seven years for his business to reach the success and customer base it has now. And while business is good, Wayne is not stopping there.  


0:39:13 - Wayne Schild 

You know part of our sort of story going forward, the chemistry of garlic, just beggars belief. I mean, everyone knows garlic for its flavour and aroma and everyone thinks that it's healthy for you.  


The health-giving properties of garlic is actually called Allicin, and the thing that I find quite funny is that there's no Allicin in garlic. What actually is in garlic is two other compounds, and when you crush the cell structure, those two compounds mix in an incredibly complex, multi-layered, simultaneous chemical equation. The outcome is Allicin. Of course then Allicin is very unstable, so it's really easily lost. None of the imported product has got any Allicin component in it whatsoever, and I just didn't want to produce a product that was just a product. I really wanted to have something that was special and authentic.  


I can sort of say now that, whilst it was a very long journey, that road has actually led us to now having a stable product with 12-month shelf life, unrefrigerated, untreated, and that in the food world is impossible, and best example of that is if you get any fruit or vegetable you like or meat, chop it up, put it in a container, put a lid on it, leave it sitting on the kitchen bench for 12 months at ambient temperature, come back. What have you got? A more awful mess. So getting that stability has been a scientific process beyond belief. It's also been what sort of kept me interested in it, because there's just nothing on the planet that even comes close. There's plenty of superfoods and everything's got its place, but there's one thing that sits at the top of the lot, and that's garlic, because it's immune-boosting qualities and its antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral qualities, it just, there's nothing that even touches the sides.  


0:41:07 - Kirsten Diprose 

And that's it for another episode of Innovation Ag brought to you by the Victoria Drought and Innovation Hub. Thank you to all of our guests, Wayne Schild, of course, as well as Dr Tim Clune and Emma Coath.  

For our next episode, we're looking at circular economies. What are the opportunities to tap into, both on farm, as well as along the supply chain?  

You can find the episode transcript on our website, vicdroughthub.org.au .  

Thank you for listening. This episode is written and hosted by me, Kirsten Diprose, produced by Rachael Thompson, and we have editorial input from scientists, academics and farming groups involved in the Victoria Drought and Innovation Hub. This podcast is funded by the Australian Government's Future Drought Fund. Catch you next time.  

Innovation Ag episode 6 staying operational while innovating Emma Coath Tim Clune Wayne Schild

So far we’ve heard a lot about innovation in ag – about what it is, about considerations to factor into the decision-making process and we’ve also heard stories about how others have gone about funding a new tool, practice, trial or project.

So, now we're ready to innovate, right?

Well hang on a minute, because first we need to talk about one of the biggest barriers to changing systems or practices. And that is... you generally have to keep your operations going while you do it.

This episode we’ll hear stories of people who have already navigated this process, such as Wayne Schild - the founder and owner of his family business, Grange Garlic, located near Hamilton in Victoria's western districts - a place famous for sheep, NOT garlic. But as you'll soon find out, Wayne is not one for doing things.... the way they've always been done.

We also hear from Dr Tim Clune. He's a Senior Lecturer at the La Trobe University Business School and leads the agribusiness major.

Meanwhile, Emma Coath, managing director of Rocket Seeder, an accelerator for early stage food and ag startups provides her insights into some common hurdles faced by start ups and how to get around them.

This podcast has been created by the Victoria Drought Resilience Innovation and Adoption Hub and is funded through the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund.