Allan Gray discusses DIAL Ventures on AgriTalk radio show

Dr. Allan Gray was welcomed by the AgriTalk show to share DIAL Ventures' strategy for innovating in food and agriculture with the operation of its venture studio.

DIAL Ventures Executive Director Allan Gray recently appeared on AgriTalk. Hosted by Chip Flory, AgriTalk is a daily national radio show that discusses the issues that the agriculture industry is facing.

DIAL Ventures Executive Director Allan Gray recently appeared on AgriTalk. Hosted by Chip Flory, AgriTalk is a daily national radio show that discusses the issues that the agriculture industry is facing. Dr. Gray discussed the goal of DIAL Ventures and provided an update on where the two companies featured at the June 3 Pitch Day currently stand.

Below is the full transcript of the conversation. Check out the audio version of the interview here.

Chip Flory

Let's go ahead and bring in Allan Gray. Allan is the Land O'Lakes chair in Food and Agribusiness at Purdue University. He's the executive director of DIAL Ventures at Purdue University. And he joins us right now. Professor Gray, it's good to talk with you again.

Allan Gray

Thanks Chip, how are you doing?

Chip Flory

We're doing real fine, real fine. So, what is DIAL Ventures?

Allan Gray

DIAL Ventures is a new startup essentially at Purdue University that is focused on building digital native startup companies to help the ag and food system digitize in places where we still need to work on that.

Chip Flory

OK, now help us out here. What does it mean to digitize the agri-food system?

Allan Gray

So, think about it simply as we're building companies; software companies to help do things like improve our ability to monitor, measure, and control food safety, or to help us with the big problems we have in terms of getting the data from various pieces to talk to each other and then be able to use that better in an analytical fashion.

So, think of it as at least for now, what we do is really kind of finding ways to build software that makes us more productive effective, more efficient, more resilient and more transparent across the industry.

Chip Flory

And what exactly is Purdue's role in all of this, Allan? I mean, it seems unique for a university to be taking this on.

Allan Gray

So, you know, our primary role at Purdue is we run something called a Fellows program. We bring in six fellows every six months, people from the industry who are going to come in and work with us over these six months. They work with us and our industry partners to identify what those problems are in the industry, where we could have a digital solution and then go through a process where we come up with the right idea, the right business model, the right way to think about having a big impact in the industry that also has enough of a business interest to it to create a profitable business. And so, our role is to bring the fellows together with the industry and facilitate that ideation process to create that potential for a new startup to have an impact in the industry.

Chip Flory

Did you say you're doing that every six months?

Allan Gray

That's right, yeah. Every six months we bring in a new set of Fellows and we do that because we think of it as a forcing function. What happens too often, particularly at a university level, is that we want to think about these ideas forever, and we just linger, and linger and linger. What we're trying to do is say, ‘look, we need to force every six months.’ We need to have an idea that's useful for the industry and it needs to be implemented. Or do we need to move on to something else? So, we sort of do that in these six-month cycles to make sure we're forcing something that's going to have real impact in the industry.

Chip Flory

That's very cool. That is very cool. I mean, that is a timeline that is ambitious and can generate some results. I love that you said if it's not going to do us any good, let's move on to something else. Figure out if it's going to help or not.

On the website you talk about startup studios. What is that?

Allan Gray

So, the startup studio is a combination of an incubator where you incubate the ideas, right? An accelerator is where you accelerate the company to its growth stages. And in our case, smart capital. That is where we have the industry investing capital in our studio to help them invest in these startup companies that we create. So, if you start with the industry, it helps us with the incubation of the ideas to get to the best ideas we can, and then we use our industry partner, High Alpha Innovation in Indianapolis to help us with the acceleration part.

That means we're going to take our founders, which are our Fellows, and we're going to surround them with marketing, legal, accounting, all the things that you have to worry about to run a startup, but that don't really create any value, and let our Fellows instead focus on customers; understanding that customer problem, and building out the product to really create a solution for it. That's what we call the acceleration piece. And then we're using our industry partners’ investments from a money perspective; investing in these companies to give them an advantaged position to be able to grow rapidly because our partners are invested, and our partners tend to be our customers of these companies.

Chip Flory

Do you have any of these projects in that accelerated process right now?

Allan Gray

I do, yeah. We ran our first pilot in February. February to June was our six-month cycle where we ran through this process. And coming out of that process, we had two companies that we pitched. One of them was dealing with migrant labor and the H-2A labor process – very complicated. The business that came out of it, you can think of it as sort of like TurboTax for labor. I can't really tell you much more about it than that. It is kind of in a silent phase at the moment, but we'll be announcing that here in the next couple of days. The other one is sort of a CRM or a customer relationship management software for farmers to be able to manage their land-owner relationships. That one we didn't fund, but it's going to go back through the cycle and we're going to continue to refine the idea because we think it has a lot of merit moving forward.

We ran through our pilot and said, ‘Can we make this work?’ You know, at the university, we're mostly about theories, but I'm not. We want to put these theories in practice and say, ‘Do they work?’ They worked. We've got a company already out of it. This H-2A labor company is going to be a really exciting thing. That's happening for us in the industry. It is increasingly more important to deal with this problem of labor and how do we manage that effectively and what's really a quite complicated government system. So, I'm really excited about where we're going with that one.

Chip Flory

This whole thing is high energy, Allan. This is exciting, man.

Allan Gray

Yeah, we're loving it. It's moving really quickly. We have a lot of industry folks that are really interested in what we're doing, really coming to the table, and saying, ‘Hey, let us help you think about what these problems are and let's see if we can fix them.’ Great companies that can have a real impact. It's a lot of fun from the university perspective to be able to say we can do these things.

Chip Flory

Fantastic Allan, thanks so much. We'll learn more about it. Just head on over to their website, dialventures.com.

DIAL Ventures, the innovation arm of the Purdue Applied Research Institute, tackles big problems facing the U.S. and the world such as food safety, supply chain efficiency, sustainability, and environmental impact. DIAL Ventures creates new companies that drive innovation in the agri-food industry which, in turn, makes a positive impact on our lives and lifestyles for years to come.

If you are interested in becoming a DIAL Ventures Fellow or Corporate Partner, contact us at info@dialventures.com.