How a stint on a tractor inspired EY Entrepreneur Of The Year finalist Doug Fitch to create a $100m business
WA tech entrepreneur Doug Fitch — who founded one of WA’s most successful agtech businesses AgWorld — has been named the State’s only finalist in the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
Mr Fitch grew up fascinated by farming and later worked for Bayer Crop science, but it wasn’t until a family member fell ill and he stepped in to assist on his wife’s parents’ farm that he realised the many challenges facing farmers in the modern world.
Many farmers were operating large-scale farms, without the assistance of technology or data to facilitate optimal decision making.
“I did a harvest and stumbled across this whole thing about information, having been in and around my wife’s family farm for a while and watching how they operated,” he said.
“I started to think about, ‘how do you scale a farm and have that information at hand?’.”
Founded by Mr Fitch and his colleague Matthew Powell in 2009, Agworld helps farmers track and share paddock data to help farm and operational decision-making.
Mr Fitch has led the business from its transition as a bootstrapped start-up through to a global company with a global team of 63 staff with customers across the world.
The business is Australia’s most used farm management software, with more than 75 per cent of agronomists and thousands of growers using the system. More than 50,000 farms and 28,000 users in five countries use Agworld.
While Agworld was bought by Canadian business Semios for $100m last year, Mr Fitch is still at the helm as its chief executive.
“Despite some challenges, we have stayed true to our word, close to our customers and committed to fit-for-market next generation technology,” Mr Fitch said.
“As a result, the uptake of Agworld’s software products has continued to grow and farmers around the world are accessing this technology to enhance production efficiencies, achieve more sustainable farming practices and to bridge intergenerational knowledge gaps.”
Agworld aims to help farmers and agronomists realise the benefits of digital transformation and a more data-centric approach through a suite of farm management software products.
As the farm management software space becomes increasingly crowded and technology improves, the business has set its sights on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
“While you are building your current business, you have to be thinking ‘what will technology look like in the future?’,” Mr Fitch said.
“We focus really heavily on data structures and the way managing that so it is nice and clean so it can be fed into machine learning and artificial intelligence to deliver better value to growers to manage risk on their properties.
“We aren’t building AI right now but we are building the data models around it.”
A childhood spent visiting his great grandparents’ farm sparked a love of the “diversity” in agriculture while exploring what Mr Fitch said was a “paradise for kids”.
“I had always wanted to be a farmer, I loved farming – it was an innate thing,” he said.
Mr Fitch’s career has seen him start an apprenticeship as a mechanic, pick stumps at Bencubbin, work as a wool classer, and spend years with Rural Trading Co and Bayer.
“We started Agworld with the vision we had, which was centralised data for growers, make it easy for them to use and put them in the driver’s seat – make sure they are advantaged, not disadvantaged and work with them to build a program for them and their service providers to work on together and grow the crop,” Mr Fitch said.
“Farmers pay for the crop and are involved in planting it, but there are a lot of people that run service businesses to help them do that and manage the risk around that.”
Mr Fitch said his biggest two pieces of advice for those entering the ag-tech space were to “treat it as an ultra-marathon and run a steady race” and to focus on a vision rather than “chasing cheques”.
“In other markets, you can see really rapid growth,” he said.
“To run a steady race… you have to have cash. Raising capital and going into other countries with enough capital is really difficult outside of Australia.
“You also need to make sure you have a real vision that you are passionate about you have to hold that vision and not chase the cheques.
“Before you start, you should make sure you are crystal clear about what problem you are solving.”
While you are building your current business, you have to be thinking ‘what will technology look like in the future’.
Mr Fitch is one of six finalists and will represent WA at the national awards, with the winner set to be announced in April.
For more than 20 years, Ernst & Young has been working with entrepreneurs through the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Program, which celebrates the contributions of individuals.
Mr Fitch will compete against EHPlabs CEO Izhar Basha, Torrens University Australia chief executive Linda Brown, Ellume chief executive Sean Parsons, and One Stop Warehouse and Discover Energy cofounders Anson Zhang and Jeff Yu.
Finalists will be assessed by an independent judging panel chaired by Sydney-based businesswoman Lucy Turnbull.
The winner will be announced at the Australian Entrepreneur of the Year Awards on April 7.
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