Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Communications Specialist, Iowa JPEC

When you can trace your farming lineage to the European “old country,” you know passion for the profession runs deep. 

Mitchell Hora is a seventh generation Iowa farmer (six generations on the other side of the family). Many years before that, his ancestors tilled the ground in places like the Czech Republic and Germany, doing whatever it took so nutrients could move from the soil into plants.

Keeping the family tradition alive, the Ainsworth, Iowa, native is on a mission to help a million farmers profit from soil health. Hora founded Continuum Ag in 2015 while studying agronomy and ag systems technology at Iowa State University. Four years later, he attended Iowa JPEC’s Venture School at North Iowa Area Community College (NIACC) in Mason City. He said attending Venture School was the catalyst needed to get into the AgLaunch Accelerator, which offered Hora access to a large network of farmers and ag tech investors.

“I went through Venture School in order to work toward looking for investors and accelerator programs’” said Hora, noting that Continuum Ag has raised two rounds of financing. “It provided opportunities to springboard us into a space that was different for me, being a small-town Iowa farm kid, to be able to navigate these venture capitals and build off that.”

A soil health data company, Continuum Ag helps farmers by factoring biology and carbon into their management system. 

“As farmers look to adopt more sustainable ag practices, they need to understand the biology,” Hora said.

Continuum Ag’s software imports data from different sources of soil metrics and converts to a universal format so it can benchmark metrics such as nutrients, organic matter, and carbon dioxide for different geographies, soil types and cropping systems. The business helps farmers modify the way they tend the land to increase overall soil health and facilitate a profitable transition to regenerative agriculture. Not only does this capability quantify soil health, but it also identifies soil health drivers and gives Continuum Ag an ability to offer growers a guide to soil improvement.

At the 2021 Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge, Continuum Ag won a fourth runner-up award (out of more than 1,700 applications).

“It was a cool deal to be recognized on a global stage like that,” Hora said. “It was a good resume-booster — it is about continuing to get your name out there as much as possible. I put a lot of emphasis on marketing.”

The long-term goal for Continuum Ag is to partner with a company that will take it to a global scale so it can reach that million-farmer target. A major deal is a couple of years out, Hora said, so in the meantime, Continuum Ag continues to build. As Hora describes it, “work strategically and play the lean and mean game” for a while longer.

“We’re at the stage where we have to ask, how do we strategically grow and take the next steps in the right order and not bite off more than we can chew?” he said. “We can’t spread ourselves too thin. Let’s build, implement, and hire based on what our customers need and fund things mostly off revenue instead of raising a bunch of money.”

With Continuum Ag’s 2021 year-to-date revenue already at more than four times of what it was in 2020, Hora has hired two new full-time agronomists to their team of 20 people. The crew looks to keep expanding with the addition of more agronomy and marketing help.

Continuum Ag still works with Iowa JPEC for grant funding as the company continues to navigate the next major growth opportunity. Hora is thankful for assistance from Candi Karsjens, a lead instructor for Venture School, for helping with the Cisco Global Problem Solver Challenge and for helping Continuum Ag secure a demo fund through Iowa Economic Development Authority. The company now has a long list of target enterprise customers interested in connecting with farmers.

With the help of Hora and Continuum Ag, farming is set to prosper for many generations to come. In Iowa, the United States, and abroad.