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Crain’s 20 in their 20s: FarmLogs’ Jesse Vollmar goes from family farm to Silicon Valley

Jesse Vollmar attracted $5 million from investors who think @FarmLogs can change the future of farming. #cdb20s

It was the family farm that led Jesse Vollmar to Silicon Valley and the influential incubator Y Combinator.

He and partner Brad Koch moved there in 2012 to launch their business, AgriSight Inc., and its flagship product: FarmLogs, Web-based software that allows farmers to better manage operations.

Vollmar has an intimate understanding of the needs of a modern farm. He grew up in Caro east of Saginaw, where the fifth generation of his family runs Vollmar Family Farms Inc., growing crops on 1,200 acres.

The existing technology available to farms was “very antiquated,” Vollmar recalled. “I saw what was available to us. It was so far behind with what technology can do.”

So he and Koch created Web-based software that soaks up publicly available data — market prices, rainfall, crop rotations and inventory — and delivers it to farmers in easy-to-view displays. Farmers can access the cloud-based system from the field, allowing them to better manage operations.

Vollmar thinks his technology could change the future of farming. 

Y Combinator agreed, offering the pair a spot in the incubator, which came with a dose of funding and access to the Valley’s inner circle in exchange for a slice of equity. 

Through the program, AgriSight received funding from Andreessen Horowitz in Menlo Park, Calif., and Start Fund, a fund set up by social media investor Yuri Milner.

After the program, Vollmar and Koch moved AgriSight to Ann Arbor to be closer to Midwest farmers. They also raised $5 million in two rounds of investment, with Huron River Ventures in Ann Arbor, Hyde Park Venture Partners and Hyde Park Angels in Chicago and Drive Capitalin Columbus, Ohio, participating. 

Right now Vollmar’s life is focused on building his company, which currently has 10 employees. But every winter he likes to go adventure backpacking with friends, including Koch, who is AgriSight’s chief technology officer. This past winter, they spent a few nights in Bruce Peninsula National Park in Ontario. “Usually,” he said, “we go into pretty wild country.”

He still gets into the field — usually the family farm — to test his product and stay in touch with farmers. His favorite crop? 

“Blue corn.”

5 QUESTIONS

What do you love about living in metro Detroit?

I love the ambition that people have around here. When I think about Detroit, I think about a lot of the entrepreneurs working so hard to rebuild. There’s a lot of ambition taking on the hard problem of rebuilding Detroit. That’s impressive. One thing I do really like about this area is the high number of really intelligent people here in Ann Arbor.

What advice do you have for newcomers?

We have a number of great tech and entrepreneur meet-ups — A2 New Tech and D-NewTech. If you’re new to the area, surround yourself with other people in the community trying to do these types of things.

What is the best piece of advice — business or personal — you have received?

Make something people want. It is actually harder than you would think. Most people only make something they think people will want but never cross the gap into something people actually want.

What is your favorite local place to visit for creative inspiration?

My family’s farm, of course. I really don’t get out much. I spend most of my time in our office.

Tell us one thing people would be surprised to know about you.

I have never had a Facebook account.

May 2, 2014 | Crain’s Detroit Business

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