Matt Foley, a senior economics and management major at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Business Administration, presented his online marketplace, FarmAfield, at the Smart Startup 2017 Conference. Hosted in Bangkok by the Thailand Ministry of Commerce (TOC), conference leaders offered the group an all-expenses-paid trip in exchange for sharing their agricultural and entrepreneurial expertise.
“The goal of the conference was to encourage more people in Thailand to become entrepreneurs and start businesses,” Foley said. “With the country primarily focused on farming and tourism, most young people in Thailand never consider owning a company and the entrepreneurial environment is much different.”
FarmAfield was created by alumnus Mitch Minarick '03. He then approached Foley; Brennan Costello ’16, chief business relations officer at Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program; and Andrew Minarick, a junior biosystems engineering major to partner with him, and provide an online platform to lower financial risks and create diversification strategies for farmers. The company also allows consumers from all over the world to connect to agriculture by purchasing ownership in crops and livestock.
Since agriculture makes up the backbone of Thailand, FarmAfield served as an ideal fit for the conference. Costello, who also attended the conference, opened the presentation by outlining the agricultural landscape in the United States. He also discussed the creation and challenges of FarmAfield.
“We talked about the valuable resources Nebraska and the city of Lincoln provide entrepreneurs including the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, Center for Entrepreneurship, Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program and Non-Profit Hub,” Foley said. “Every time we needed assistance throughout the process we easily connected with resources, which isn’t as simple in countries like Thailand.”
Using a translator due to the language barrier, audience members asked questions after the presentation about starting a business, entrepreneurship in America and the future of FarmAfield. Foley explained to the audience that a long-term goal of the business involves expanding to countries like Thailand.
“We wanted to build FarmAfield based on what we know best – Nebraska farmers – but eventually want to grow to help developing nations,” Foley said. “The problems a rice farmer face in Thailand are not that different from a corn farmer in Nebraska. Each farmer has the same goal to produce and sell food, and to feed their families.”
The trip served as the second international trip for FarmAfield. After being named a Top 10 Finalist in the International Thought for Food Challenge last year, they traveled to Switzerland and presented at the TFF Global Summit. A few months later, an article published by FoodTechConnect.com led to the opportunity to go to Thailand.
“We appreciated the article written about FarmAfield, but never expected it to go anywhere. All of the sudden, I received a Facebook message from someone named Chai in Thailand who found the article, liked what we were doing and invited us to the Smart Startup Conference,” Costello said. “When I look back on the experience, I never expected to be traveling the world when we started creating our business, but we just kept building and the opportunities showed up. You don’t need to have all the answers, you just need to start building.”
Dr. Samuel Nelson, assistant professor of practice in management and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at CBA, served as a mentor for the FarmAfield since its inception. As they built the organization, he helped connect them with resources.
“The group has done a great job finding experts who can help them advance their business and discovering opportunities to present to different constituents and gather customer feedback,” Nelson said. “Their trip to Thailand highlights the initiative the team takes and the continuous learning they seek to improve their business.”
FarmAfield recently placed fourth and received $3,000 in the Center for Entrepreneurship New Venture Competition March 27-28. The competition featured 44 presentations from undergraduate and graduate student entrepreneurs at Nebraska.