Skip to content

Award-winning agtech and fintech entrepreneur shares insights

WRITTEN BYJames Price | JPAbusiness

June 3 – 2

AgriDigital CEO and co-founder Emma Weston is a unique talent on Australia’s corporate stage.

The recipient of numerous titles and awards for her leading role in the agtech and fintech sectors – including the Pearcey Foundation NSW 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year – Emma is a highly sought-after expert speaker and advisor to start-ups.

I have known Emma for 25 years and was delighted that she found time to sit down with me for an episode of the Let’s Talk Business podcast.

Our conversation was wide-ranging to say the least. Among the topics we covered were:

  • how Emma and her business partners Ben Reid and Bob McKay (also her husband) founded AgriDigital to bring digitisation to the one trillion dollar global grains industry;
  • how their digital grain management platform – which has so far processed about $9.5 billion in transactions, mostly in Australia – is removing power from the few industry giants and instead democratising access to capital;
  • the steps they took to de-risk their start-up and why it’s important to find investors who share your values (she says AgriDigital has a strict ‘no idiots’ policy, although the actual wording is a little more colourful than that).


The beginning…

Before founding AgriDigital, Emma, Bob and Ben had worked together at Australian grain broking and marketing pioneer Agfarm.

As Emma told me in the podcast, the trio had experienced – firsthand – the inefficiencies, fragmentation, and data replication widespread throughout the grains supply chain, resulting in an industry characterised by ‘millions of pieces of paper’ moving around the industry every year.

They set out to build a better way – powered by technology and teamwork.

“The biggest thing we do is take out risk from the supply chain,” Emma explained.

“When you have highly inefficient workflows across an entire supply chain – they may be efficient at a workplace, but across a whole industry they’re inefficient – when you have massive amounts of duplication and replication of data, you have a lot of opportunity for things to go wrong… you have a lot of opportunity for fraud and mistakes.

“What that does is stop access to capital, because capital doesn’t like risk.”

Using the AgriDigital platform, says Emma, gives users the opportunity to “transform uncertainty into something that can be collateralised”.

The details of how AgriDigital creates ‘digital twins’ of physical parcels of grain is fascinating, but I won’t attempt to describe it here – I recommend you listen to Emma’s much more lucid explanation in the podcast!


The beauty of blockchain

While the AgriDigital team saw the potential of blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) early on, Emma says Australia has been slower than they expected to take it up.

She says this is partly due to the fact Australia has a well-regulated supply chain and banking sector, so the fraud-negating benefits of DLT aren’t as necessary in this country as they may be in others. (In Ukraine, for example, Emma said farmers were spending 30% of their income on physically securing their grain from theft, before the war!)

But what Emma finds most fascinating about the potential of blockchain and distributed ledgers is the ‘smart contracts’ layer. She says smart contracts can take large series of sequential workflows and collapse them down into one ‘atomic’ transaction.

In 2018 AgriDigital conducted an experiment with Rabobank to test the possibilities of smart contracts.

“We took one of their structured inventory products, which had about 130 different tasks that would usually take about six weeks to complete, and got the transaction down to two milliseconds,” Emma said.

“That was not just financing, but also grain title being transferred, money being paid against grain, accounting entries going into different accounting systems – the full gamut of the transaction and the after-effects.”


Enjoying the journey

Emma is obviously an intensely focused and disciplined high achiever, but she also has a valuable perspective on work–life balance and enjoying the journey.

“I didn’t start AgriDigital with Ben and Bob to be a slave to AgriDigital,” she told me.

“If I feel like ‘oh God, I’ve got to get out of bed and do this thing’, I should probably stop. So it’s not like that at all, it’s just that it’s big.”

Early on, she says, the trio agreed they wanted to work with investors who would be inspired by them and who they would be inspired by.

“It was not just to solve the problem, it was how we would go about solving it and how we would enjoy this journey.

“We knew in 2017 – and we told investors at the time – this is a 10-year journey. So you know you’re going to be at it [together] for a while.”


Advice for early career professionals

At the end of our chat I asked Emma for some words of advice to pass on to a family friend who is just beginning her career in business.

“Time is not as pressured as we think it is,” Emma responded.

“I think it’s a complete fallacy that you need to be fast and furious, and things are not worth it if you’re not working crazy hours.

Slowing down gives you the space to work out what you really want to do and to soak up what you are doing.”

Her other key takeaway was to “collect experiences”.

“There’s an argument that quantity is better than quality when it comes to opportunities,” she said.

“I think you should take up numerous opportunities. Some of them will be no good, some will be amazing. But you will be able to look back at a bundle of experiences, at the very least, and then be able to pick a path to go forward with.

“So you don’t need to pick your path at 23. You just need to have the confidence that you can accumulate a bundle of experiences that will help you pick a path at 33 or 43.

“If the journey is only taking you in one direction, what sort of journey is it anyway?”


Reliable information critical to business value

In business, whether it’s making a decision to grow and change your business, or making a decision to invest in a new or existing business, one of the holy grails is getting a strong degree of confidence around the risk you are taking and the decision you are making.

We are all better operators if we have transparent and reliable information on which to make a business  decision, or in fact a life decision. Sometimes there’s going to be a level of judgement, based on experience and gut instinct – that’s often the X factor.

But the business owners who are the best of the best, who have all their ducks lined up, don’t treat a business decision like a game of roulette!

Emma Weston, her partners and the AgriDigital team have made a habit of providing businesses – grain farmers and industry participants – with greater transparency, confidence in the information they are receiving, and surety, to enable them to make sound grain marketing and related decisions.

When we value a business, and conduct a due diligence of a business on behalf of an acquirer, the more confidence we can have in the performance and core management information around the operations and forward outlook of a business, the more confidence we can place on its likely track, and therefore value. It’s a critical element of good business!


Tune in to the podcast

Emma is an inspiring business leader and I really enjoyed our wide-ranging conversation on the podcast. I hope you enjoy hearing her insights as much as I did.

About James Price | JPAbusiness James Price has over 30 years’ experience in providing strategic, commercial and financial advice to Australian and international business clients. James’ blogs provide business advice for aspiring and current small to mid-sized business owners, operators and managers.