You have to start somewhere. So when Jayce Hafner and Sami Tellatin bonded as Stanford MBA classmates over their shared belief that helping American farms run more efficiently would be good for farmers, good for the country, and great business, they decided to start with grants.
For her part, Hafner grew up on a cattle ranch in Virginia and knew firsthand that applying for grants — even to improve sustainable farming practices on her family’s farm — was a confusing and time-consuming process. As for Tellatin, she studied bioengineering as an undergraduate and spent three years at the USDA, studying the impacts of cover crops on ecosystems and agricultural economics. She also knew that farmers might make better choices if subsidies were more accessible to them.
Enter FarmRaise, a San Diego, Calif.-based company now 12 people and two years old, that has come a long way since joining forces with fellow co-founder Albert Abedi, whom they met through the bias of acceleration program of Pear VC, the Palo Alto-based company.
According to Hafner, the company already has nearly 10,000 farms on the platform thanks to word of mouth, a dash of search engine magic and, most importantly, partnerships it has struck with agricultural giants. such as Cargill and Corteva (since DuPont in 2018). ) who have carbon reduction targets to meet and have started directing farmers to FarmRaise for help with grants related to low-carbon farming.
FarmRaise’s platform – which requests granular information about farms and then structures the data in a way that allows FarmRaise to quickly apply to a wide variety of grant programs on behalf of its clients – also has enough momentum to that investors are now in the mix. (The team just landed $7.2 million in seed funding led by Susa Ventures, which was joined by Cendana Capital, Ulu Ventures, Pear, Better Tomorrow Ventures, Incite Ventures, and Financial Ventures Studio, among others. )
Yet, like so many startups, Hafner says the grants — federal and private — are just the starting point for the massive financial services company FarmRaise intends to become. Imagine, suggests Hafner, that once a farm has provided much of its data to the company, FarmRaise can help it secure loans, secure equipment at wholesale prices, reduce expenses operations and to assist with both banking and tax planning for the farm.
Many of these services will be provided by third parties, she says, with FarmRaise collecting middleman fees. FarmRaise does not seek to reinvent the wheel. But there’s also no reason farmers shouldn’t have a “complete” resource to turn to, she adds.
Grants are “our corner,” she says. “They are not the end of the story.”
In the meantime, FarmRaise is focused on hiring more employees, getting more grants, and making sure its customers are happy with the services it already provides and for which it charges a monthly fee, as well as 10% of the value of the grants it secures.
It will take some time to figure out FarmRaise’s success rate, given that some grants have wait times of six to 12 months. But it’s a great opportunity in itself, Hafner suggests, not least because USDA funding “has grown like crazy,” she says.
She points to the Trump administration, which has handed out “tens of billions of dollars” in funding to support farmers who have battled Covid-related supply chain disruptions.
The Biden administration also feels FarmRaise is being encouraged, she adds, “We see this focus on increasing the size of the pie for conservation funding and it will likely double in the years to to come.” It doesn’t make sense, she suggests. “Not only [sustainable farming] increase the profitability of farms, but it also sequesters carbon and can help fight climate change. It’s just many, many, many benefits that come with it.”
Above, left to right: FarmRaise co-founders Jayce Hafner (CEO), Albert Abedi (who is the company’s chief product officer) and COO Sami Tellatin.