Kim Harrison and her husband own a farm in Fulton that produces grass-fed beef and lamb. But Harrison has always found marketing their product time-demanding and tedious. So she decided to do something about it, devising a solution to help herself and other farmers.
Earlier this year, Harrison and her daughter, Olivia Vann, founded 2BuyAg, an app designed to connect farmers with customers in a real-time, online marketplace. Think of it as a sort of farmers’ market that you can access from your phone.
The mother and daughter wanted a way not only to make marketing easier for farmers, but also to reduce food waste. Thus, 2BuyAg was born.
The app will be free to download, and it will be free for users to set up a profile and peruse the app. It will generate revenue through a transactional fee that the customer is charged when making a purchase. There is no cost to the farmer.
“We really are focusing on the farmer, unlike a lot of our competitors,” Harrison said.
Added Vann: “Where we differentiate from them is that farmers can get on the app, they can surf the app but they never have to commit. Usually with the other apps … you are committed to being a supplier. With 2BuyAg, because it is in real-time, I hope it adds more value than our competitors.”
Harrison, Vann and the third member of their team, brand manager Ginger Bakos, are hoping to find success where plenty of other startups have experienced setbacks.
Farmigo, another online farmers’ market, has been forced to significantly scale back its business. The startup shut down its delivery service in July, TechCrunch reported, despite having raised more than $26 million.
“When one of the main competitors goes out of business it excites and intimidates you,” Harrison said.
In a blog post announcing the elimination of his company’s delivery service, Farmigo founder Benzi Rozen said the country’s food system is “broken.”
“The industry is not where it needs to be – there’s definitely need for better food systems,” Rozen said. “A lot of different companies and entrepreneurs are trying to figure this out, and no one has figured it out to date.”
The 2BuyAg team is hopeful they can tackle this challenge in ways that others have not. One of 2BuyAg’s main differentiators is that its only purpose is to connect and become a facilitator between farmer and customer; the startup doesn’t offer delivery, and that eliminates expenses that have become burdensome for similar startups.
For 2BuyAg, the desire to enhance efficiency in the food business is major driver.
“2BuyAg addresses food waste because we want farmers to better plan pre-harvest and post-harvest,” Vann said. “If a farmer comes back from the farmers’ market and he still has tomatoes he hasn’t sold, he can go on 2BuyAg, reach out to his network and sell leftover tomatoes. It eliminates food waste.”
Leveraging local resources
Harrison and Vann have tried to utilize all resources available to them.
They participated in a bootcamp through University of Missouri Extension, giving them an opportunity to develop their product and commercial network.
Sandra Marin, a business counselor for the Missouri Small Business & Technology Development Centers, met Harrison and Vann at the bootcamp and was impressed by their idea.
“We found in research … that what they created has a lot of potential to be commercialized, potential for international markets,” Marin said.
During the bootcamp, the entrepreneurs met Amos Angelovici, the University of Missouri’s entrepreneur in residence. Angelovici has become a mentor for 2BuyAg.
The team has worked with Tin Can Technologies, a Columbia-based development shop, to build its app. The app is expected to be released by the end of September.
Over the long term, 2BuyAg aspires to become a worldwide organization that provides human and environmental benefits.
“We are trying to create a different way of communicating within the food system without trying to change the way people are farming,” Harrison said. “We are just enabling it with technology and providing a better way to let them talk.”