After spending years studying plant breeding, Nicolas Enjalbert was working for a large U.S. company when he realized there was a better way to do things.
“I saw the limitation in current breeding practices, and I was also very aware of market trends,” Enjalbert said.
He later started Seedlinked, an internet seed broker employing advanced analytics and crowdsourcing technology to create a modern buying experience powered by precise recommendations.
To build this company, Enjalbert assembled a five-person team with experience in application development, data science, production farming and entrepreneurship.
In essence, Seedlinked is a service that tailors the seed-buying experience to gardeners’ and farmers’ unique climate and soil needs.
“When you go to buy a tomato seed, you can do a quick search and find around 5,000 varieties you could buy online,” Enjalbert said. “What we do is bring information about your environment and what plants do well there, to find which tomato fits your needs.”
The company is primarily targeting small- to medium-sized farms, which are under 10 acres in size.
Another target customer group is gardeners. Households in the United States spend an average of $400 a year tending to their lawns and gardens. Organic farmers provide an additional revenue source for Seedlinked, and its tailored marketplace tools help choosy farmers select certified organic breeds that work best in their environment.
“Consumers want a food system that is more sustainable and transparent,” Enjalbert said. “Seedlinked will fit the needs of the diverse small farm community.”
Seedlinked’s business model is two-sided: serve growers with a diverse market for easy access to a range of producers; and serve producers and distributors, providing analytics and a unified marketplace to access paying customers.
“On Facebook, if you ‘like’ certain things, you’ll be shown more of that,” Enjalbert explained. “We use a similar model for plant breeding, with more variables.”
The company has a recommendation system driven by machine learning. Customer feedback is gauges information about specific preferences; this is combined with other seed reviews and geographical information. This information is used to choose plant breeds that users prefer, while also providing the highest yield for their environment.
The company is funded primarily through the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and the Small Business Innovation Research grants. To ensure access to Phase 2 of the SBIR grant, the company is seeking a matching investor. The company has 510 users on their beta platform, and projects making around 50,000 annual sales by 2022.
With these sales targets, the company aims to have positive cash flow by 2023. Next steps for the company involve expanding their beta program to more users, which will bolster the wealth of information that Seedlinked can access.
Enjalbert said the company is overwhelmed with interest in the platform.
Their competitors are mostly large-scale seed producers and distributors such as Bayer, Corteva and Syngenta.
Even though those three companies control 60 percent of the market, Enjalbert compares the market to when microbreweries first began to take hold in the beer industry. These breweries grew in popularity and now collectively share between 20 percent and 30 percent of the market.
Viroqua’s Enjalbert will present as part of the “Diligent Dozen” in the 2019 Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, which will culminate June 4-5 at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee.
— By Tyler Fox
Tyler Fox graduated in May 2019 from the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.