2017 was a thrilling year for Jonathan Webb, founder and CEO of AppHarvest, an agricultural startup in the Appalachian region of Kentucky. Webb managed to start, grow and raise the necessary capital to make AppHarvest a reality. He secured an investment from AOL cofounder Steve Case’s seed fund, Rise of the Rest, in addition to funding from other major players in the agriculture industry.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Webb to learn more about his company and his desire to economically revitalize the Appalachian region.
1. What is AppHarvest?
AppHarvest is an agricultural startup that will soon break ground on its first $60 million greenhouse. We selected Pikeville, Kentucky, due to its location and access to nearly 70% of the U.S. population within a day's drive. Utilizing revolutionary growing techniques, AppHarvest will supply sustainable produce to consumers nationally.
2. Why do you believe there is a need for AppHarvest in Appalachia?
Eastern Kentucky has experienced crippling economic decline due to the decline of coal. The unemployment rate is nearly double the national average. The workforce is rooted in faith and grit, and it will persevere. As a result, several major political figures have partnered with us to bring jobs back to Pikeville.
“We are planting seeds of innovation and hope in Eastern Kentucky with home-grown engineers, like AppHarvest, leading the way as we strive to bring Silicon Valley to Silicon Holler,” said Republican U.S. Representative Hal Rogers. “We are developing a high-tech workforce for high-tech enterprise in the Appalachian region to elevate our competitive edge for jobs and economic development. The resiliency and sheer talent of our people are the very reasons why we are able to diversify our economy and advance incredible ideas, like these high-tech greenhouses, in one of the most rural parts of the country.”
3. How did you get started in the agricultural sector? Why agriculture instead of the existing job landscape?
My background is in large scale solar development. I believe high-tech agricultural is like solar development 10 years ago. We will see a spike in the development of high-tech greenhouses and indoor farming because we can compete with conventional farmers, and consumers are demanding local/regional produce that is higher quality and without pesticides and non-GMO seeds.
4. In a short time, you've managed to bring all sides together (politics, local governments, business leaders etc.) to make AppHarvest become a reality. Why was this necessary for the success of AppHarvest?
Partnering with a community and state was a critical part of our strategy. Eastern Kentucky wanted to pursue this with us and together we will make the region the high-tech greenhouse capital of the U.S.
5. You've raised funds and partnered with industry titans like Steve Case and J.D. Vance. Investors believe in your vision for the region. Why?
The agricultural system in the U.S. is broken and many winners are going to help fix it. AppHarvest will be one of the many winners. Here’s how we differentiate ourselves:
- No pesticides: Our integrated pest management system removes harsh chemical pesticides from the equation.
- Non-GMO seeds: What we grow is what you get – no health-harming genetic modifications necessary.
- 80 percent less water: Our greenhouse will operate using 80 percent less water than that typical open field agriculture.
- Diesel fuel use reduced by 75 percent: Our location positions us to use one-quarter of the transportation fuel compared to produce shipped cross country from the U.S. West Coast and Mexico.
6. What advice would you give entrepreneurs or small business owners that need to raise capital for their business?
Find a community that wants to work with you and partner with that community. Cities across America would love to work with entrepreneurs. I encourage folks to get out of the four or five major markets and go back home or into a city that wants you.
It all starts with the groundbreaking
The idea for your business is important. One of the most helpful pieces of advice Webb shared was the importance of finding partners in cities that want you. In other words, you must build relationships in your quest to start or grow your business.
Visit www.AppHarvest.com, if you want to learn more about Jonathan Webb and his company’s efforts to change the financial landscape by bringing jobs and opportunity back to Eastern Kentucky.
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Ebong Eka is no stranger to the world of personal finance. As a certified public accountant and former professional basketball player he offers a fresh perspective to small business planning and executing. With over fifteen years of accounting, tax & small business experience with firms like PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte & Touche and CohnReznick, Ebong provides practical money solutions tailored to the everyday person, the aspiring entrepreneur or the small business owner.
Ebong is the founder of EKAnomics, a sales, pricing and leadership firm. He is also the founder of Ericorp Consulting, Inc., a tax and management consulting firm. Ebong is the author of “Start Me Up! The-No-Business-Plan, Business Plan.”
Ebong is also the founder of The $250 Tax Pro, which provides tax preparation and consulting services in the Washington, DC area.
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