SeedLinked: Bringing Diversity and Resiliency to Seed Systems through Collective Engagement and Insight.
Building resiliency in global food systems by re-localizing seed adaptation and increasing access to diverse crop varieties
I confirm that I am fully aware of the eligibility criteria and terms of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge and that I am eligible to apply.
I am 18 years old or older.
2020 SeedLinked growers network testing more than 30 crops and > 1000 varieties
3 min pitch at Foodbytes! Chicago 2019
Diversity among and within crop
Initiative's representative name
Initiative's representative date of birth
July 31st 1985
Initiative's representative gender
Headquarters location: country
Headquarters location: city
Viroqua in Wisconsin
Where are you making a difference?
Across the United States and Canada. We are starting projects (design phase) in Africa, India and Europe.
Website or social media url(s)
Growth (have moved past the very first activities; working toward the next level of expansion)
Yearly Budget : What is your current yearly budget for the initiative?
1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this project to succeed.
I began envisioning SeedLinked after I heard the story of CoCoRaHs, a web-based community data collection network born from a need for better data to predict and respond to localized weather events. Data collected through this volunteer network has resulted in the ability to accurately predict climate trends with just one year of network data compared to five years of equivalent weather station data. Seeing the impact of 20,000 volunteers connected by technology, I began envisioning a tool that would use smart phone technology coupled with data science and crop modelling to connect, extract, and share meaningful data in a way that would eliminate the current barriers preventing widespread use of collaborative seed selection initiatives.
2. The problem: What problem are you helping to solve?
As humans have moved to agriculture-dependent diets, a reduction in biological diversity began. This trend continues with increasing consolidation in agricultural industries. Today, over 70 percent of research funds support the development of just two crops – corn and soybeans. With globalized markets, climate change, and increasing human populations, identifying food crops that provide desirable nutritional and culinary qualities while performing well under diverse conditions is essential.
3. Your solution: How are you working to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.
Decentralized participatory seed systems enhance biodiversity in agriculture by prioritizing regional differences, conditions and interactions. SeedLinked makes this possible by eliminating the barriers – difficult information exchange, inefficient collaboration, and extracting meaningful data. SeedLinked crowdsources food crop varietal data from diverse agricultural stakeholders – gardeners, farmers, plant breeders, chefs, etc. – aggregating and analyzing the data to provide insight into regional adaptation and marketability. In one location, farmers can now find seed and plant varietals best adapted to their operation, location, and customer requirements from local sources, compare their outcomes with others, evaluate new varieties, and develop decision skills. Plant breeders can access granular data to improve their own selection decisions and insights into genetic crosses, performance, and product needs. The crowdsourced variety data powers a public online seed marketplace. Software services incentivize organizational participation to increase data generation while providing reduced testing costs, easier data collection, increased data accuracy/breadth, and real-time feedback
4. Innovation: How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solve the problem?
SeedLinked uses innovative approaches to crowdsourcing data, and couples this with emerging data science, analytics and smart phone technology to provide globally accessible and meaningful data with the power to change the world. In the face of growing populations and climate change pressures, SeedLinked enhances seed selection capacities by transforming the current trends of poorly adapted, generalized seed offerings to regionally targeted, informed seed offerings. SeedLinked beta testing over the past two years shows up to a 33% general performance increase in growers’ fields when using our prescriptive analytics to make decisions, compared to using current available information from research stations and limited field trials.
5. Collaboration: How does your initiative seek to bring key players together to preserve biodiversity?
Collaboration is the foundation of the SeedLinked platform, as our crowdsourced model of data collection would not be possible without multileveled collaboration. We created the platform with the purpose of bringing together all stakeholders in the seed industry to harness the full capacity of what we like to call our “seed ecosystem”. We provide the framework or central nervous system that allows the parts to function together as a whole in a way that contributes to a system that is collaborative and evolutive rather than disparate. SeedLinkeds takes data gathered from gardeners, farmers, chefs, bakers, seed libraries, seed companies, universities, farmer organizations, consumers, and seed banks, and creates meaningful data insights and seed stories to be shared and used by all. Organizations collaborating with SeedLinked include: Seed Savers Exchange, Slow Food USA, Bioversity, Seed of Change Canada, the World Vegetable Center.
6. Impact: how has your project made a difference so far — in terms of both business outputs and social impact? How do you plan on measuring progress?
During the initial 2019-20 beta test version of our trialing software we had the following impact:
1350 people used SeedLinked to document plant performance and flavor in their gardens and farms;
15 different organizations used SeedLinked to run >100 unique trials for >20 different crops;
Over 20,00 unique reviews were entered into the platform across the USA and Canada.
Feedback from participants and testing organizations in 2019 indicated the platform dramatically improved the way trial results are recorded and shared, and testing organizations confirmed it allowed high quality data be collected for decreased costs compared to traditional research plot testing. The ability to see testing results in real-time was another important outcome success. Longer range business outputs and impacts will be measured both in terms of participants numbers and platform revenues from our SaaS and marketplace offerings. Social impact will look at new variety adoption increases and successes.
7. Growth strategies: what are your main strategies for scaling your impact?
SeedLinked currently serves English speakers across North America, and as we grow, we are leveraging partnerships with important industry leaders, including universities, nonprofits, plant breeders, and grower groups. Our current partners have a combined network of more than 2 million growers. We have also been approached by testing organizations across the globe, and plan to expand our platform language offerings as funds become available. We are working with international organizations such as the World Vegetable Center and Bioversity, with plans to co-fund language and platform development with global partnerships.
8. Creating shared value: How does your initiative create value for society? Or different stakeholders?
SeedLinked's collaborative platform (SDG9) connects seed stories across hundreds of nutritious and sustainable food crops, thousands of varieties within those crops, and soon, hundreds of thousand of diverse seed users across the globe under varied environmental conditions and practices. SeedLinked creates an evolutive, diverse, and decentralized seed system (SDG 13) that can increase performance and resilience up to 50% in farmers' fields (SDG2 -11). This shared seed intelligence is essential to decrease the negative impact of our food system on global biodiversity and climate. SeedLinked provides a transparent lens through which anyone can discover regionally adapted diverse food options.
9. Financial sustainability plan: can you tell us about your plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?
In early 2020 SeedLinked received its first private investment to cover development and scaling up costs for the next two years. While we continue to seek further grant funding through our various partnerships to cover development needs over the next 2-5 years, we will begin funding our project through income generation beginning in 2021. Income will come from software services provided to seed breeders, trialing organizations, and universities (via payments for SaaS support, analytics and data) and through commissions on market transactions in our online seed marketplace for growers. Our targets indicate we will be cash flow positive in 2023, with $5 million in sales projected by 2025.
10. Team: what is the current composition of your current team (types of roles, qualifications, full-time vs. part-time, board members, etc.), and how do you plan to evolve the team’s composition as the project grows?
Our management team includes our full time CEO with ten years of experience in plant breeding program management; full time CTO, with ten years of experience in building and maintaining complex data analytics systems; Our part time Farmer Liaison, a CSA farmer and public researcher with experience in direct production farming, public research, varietal trial testing, and entrepreneurship, and our part time Marketing Director with over seven years of marketing for agricultural enterprises
11. How did you hear about this challenge?
Recommended by others
Word of mouth
12. Connection to Biodiversity: How does your project directly contributes to preserving and/or restoring biodiversity? Please share data to support your answer.
Land use has enormous consequences for the environment. At present some 11% of the globe's land is used for crop production, 61% of that only cereals. While croplands and pastures (>30% of land) provide food for the world, agricultural practices have also induced the loss of biodiversity through the prevalence of monocropping. Even with over 50,000 edible plants globally, 60% of energy consumed globally comes from just three crops: rice, maize, and wheat. SeedLinked promotes complex agroecosystems in opposition to high input, homogeneous ones. We increase biodiversity by re-localizing crop adaptation (which expands crop genetic diversity), and increasing adoption of new food crops. Our large milestones for the next 2 years is to promote a much more diverse agroecosystem by boosting the breeding of hundreds of minor crops globally using our low cost collaborative technology while using our prescriptive engine to drive adoption of unique crops.
13. Example: Please walk us through one or two concrete examples that show how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address.
SlowFood and Seed Savers Exchange Seed Bank are characterizing thousands of heirloom, landrace varieties using their 13,000 active members and the SeedLinked platform. It is transformative for them coming from an archaic paper/mail system. They are able to characterize more varieties in less time and money. Kat, a farmer, can find and buy best adapted and diverse varieties for her, using accessible preference and performance data. SeedLinked shows she can boost her production up to 33% by using our platform data. She can also use the app to record what performs well on her farm, and easily participate in different collaborative breeding initiatives. Mark, an independent breeder, boosts his testing capacity at low cost and gains insight from his growers by inviting them through the platform to test his experimental lines. He can now better advance and place locally adapted varieties. He promotes the full story of his seed, is more profitable, and boosts his new variety launch by 68%.
14. Marketplace: Who else is addressing this problem in your environment? How does your proposed project differ from these other approaches?
Farmer Business Network (FBN) is SeedLinked’s main competitor. While heavily funded (>$350 millions), their focus remains on very large, high-input farming operations and is primarily focused on commodity crops. Since 70% of food is still produced by 500 million producers farming less than 25 acres, we believe SeedLinked will have a greater impact by focusing on small-to-medium-sized farms, and specializing in high value vegetable crops. WeFarm is an indirect platform for smallholder farmers with more than one million current users in Central Africa. Unlike SeedLinked, WeFarm does not crowdsource seed performance data to connect to their marketplace, nor do they promote local breeding efforts.
15. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?
State of Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest winner for Best Idea (2019)
Finalist and Pitch Winner at Foodbytes! Chicago 2019
USDA SBIR grant awardee for startups (2019)
Invited to attend the competitive Global Entrepreneurs Summit (GES) in the Netherlands (2019)
Invited to attend the competitive SOCAP18 summit in San Francisco (2018)
16. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: Please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.
Individual donations or gifts 7%
Foundation or NGO grants 1%
Corporate contributions 69%
Grants or contracts 20%
Earned income (product or services sales, licensing, franchising, consulting, financing, etc.) 3%
17. How do you plan to influence your field of work if you are a winner of the Act for Biodiversity Challenge? How would you invest the prize money to leverage your work?
Many international organizations have expressed interest in using SeedLinked, but we do not yet have the capacity to serve outside of North America. As winners, we will leverage our expansion to 12 languages and GIS maps of all continents so that we can serve interested projects like LIVESEED Europe, who promote appropriate seed for organic systems, and the Organic Textile Consortium in India, who run collaborative organic cotton breeding programs to improve farmers’ livelihoods and decrease pesticide use. Other projects like the World Vegetable Center plan to use SeedLinked to find better local vegetables for malnutrition in Africa. ICARDA also plans to use SeedLinked in Northern Africa to help collaboratively breed drought tolerant Durum wheat from local seed bank sources. SeedLinked will help drive collaborative and diverse seed initiatives globally by empowering local seed/food leaders and enabling local breeding initiatives, at minimum cost and maximum efficiency.
18. Pitch-video (finalists only)