The City of Escondido has a long history as an agriculture center in San Diego County. It’s the home city of the San Diego Farm Bureau and in 1892 the first San Diego avocado was planted there, starting an industry that today boasts annual revenues in the tens of millions of dollars.
In addition to the city’s agriculture roots, Escondido is also becoming a hub for tech. Over the last five years, professional science and technical services has been the city’s fastest growing industry.
“What we like to say in Escondido is we are rich in agriculture and ripe in technology,” said Jennifer Schoeneck, deputy director of Economic Development for the City of Escondido.
To expand that rich history and ripe new industry, the City of Escondido is working to combine them both and become the San Diego region’s center for agriculture technology. And to kick off the effort, the City will host San Diego’s first-ever AgTech Hackathon Oct. 21-23.
Bringing Together Community
The three-day event hosted by the City of Escondido and online tech community Fresh Brewed Tech will be held at the Synergy Centre in Escondido and will bring together entrepreneurs, farmers, investors, students and community leaders to brainstorm new ideas for tech solutions in agriculture and learn from existing companies already in that space.
“The purpose of the AgTech Hackathon is to bring together that community for maybe the first time and get them excited about what agricultural technology companies are already here and where it can go in the future,” Schoeneck said.
During the three days, participants will pose, recruit, and build a team to advance an agtech idea while receiving guidance from a group of facilitators and mentors. Each team will prepare a pitch for a panel of judges and winners will receive cash prizes and more.
“As an investor and a community organizer, I’m excited to organize an event that brings together two strong local business communities, agriculture and technology, to collaborate and find solutions that could have a worldwide impact,” said Neal Bloom, founder of Fresh Brewed Tech and managing partner at San Diego’s venture capital firm Interlock Capital. “We invite early and late-stage startups to come together with some of the smartest minds in agriculture and technology, as we figure out ways to ensure the sustainability of our food supply and keep the industry moving forward.”
The Hackathon begins on Friday with a community social and a showcase of existing agtech companies, who will serve as mentors for the rest of the weekend. The Hackathon will start at 5 p.m. by organizing teams – the goal is 10 teams of 10 – centered around an idea for an agtech business.
“We start with people pitching ideas and then people join teams they’re interested in or have experience they think might help in development of the team’s idea,” Bloom said.
Saturday’s focus will be on customer development and teaching people how to recognize need for the idea or product. The teams will learn from mentors and speakers, as well as farmers who will be on hand to give their input on how these ideas might address their needs.
Speakers at the event will include San Diego County District 5 Supervisor Jim Desmond, Escondido mayor Paul McNamara and Steve Beck from venture capital firm Serra Ventures, a leading agtech-focused venture fund.
Creating Coding Careers, an apprentice-based code school and nonprofit, will provide resources and aid during the event.
At the end of the day on Saturday, the teams will analyze the input and use it to develop a first draft or prototype of what that solution might look like.
On Sunday, mentors will teach how to pitch the idea before the final event of pitching to investors who have with experience in agtech. In addition to the feedback from investors, the top three teams will split an award of $10,000 and get follow up meetings with mentors and investors.
For more a more complete schedule of events and to purchase tickets for AgTech Hackathon, visit freshbrewedtech.com/san-dieg-agtech-startup-hackathon/ or email email@example.com.
Agriculture and agtech has been identified as a top industry in Escondido’s economic development strategy that was adopted by its city council in 2018. Agtech was a gap in the region and a considered a “good fit” for Escondido, Schoeneck said.
“We want to start creating a community for people that are interested in having an agtech industry here,” she said, adding that the Hackathon is only the first step in reaching that goal.
Schoeneck said she is currently exploring regular events that can happen virtually or in person and plans to announce a calendar of agtech events during the Hackathon. She added that participants will be encouraged to connect with individual businesses at the event and to follow up with additional resources like San Diego startup community leader Connect – a Hackathon partner.
Escondido is also exploring devoting resources to an agtech accelerator program in partnership with University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The city is conducting financial feasibility studies for use of a city building to house the accelerator.