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Inside Track: Investor invests in ag industry
Chairperson of ACRE AgTech uses investment knowledge to guide agricultural entrepreneurs.
Tim Parker is the president of Grand Angels venture group, which provides financial investment, mentorship opportunities and network resources to startup companies to help them grow.
He has been serving in that capacity for over two years, but recently, he was tapped to take on an additional title. Parker was elected chairperson for the ACRE AgTech’s board of directors in January.
It is a position he said he readily accepted without giving it a second thought because the organization is similar to Grand Angels. ACRE AgTech, formerly known as the Great Lakes Ag-Tech Business Incubator, is built on the premise of elevating entrepreneurs to take the next step in creating their own startup businesses.
However, ACRE AgTech is the only Michigan business accelerator that is strictly focused on the agricultural industry, which Parker is all too familiar with. He was born into a family that owned a small farm and in a community that valued agriculture, and he said he recognized how important it was to the state’s economy.
Although that was about five decades ago, Parker said he realizes now, more than ever, the second-largest industry in Michigan is evolving.
Nearly 1 million people are employed in the agricultural industry in the state, which creates $102 billion in economic impact, according to ACRE AgTech.
Parker, in his primary job as the president of Grand Angels, said when the company looked to invest in early-stage businesses, it noticed it only had one agricultural business in its portfolio.
“So, we’ve looked across the state and said, ‘What is the reason for that? It is such a big industry so there must be some challenges for opportunities in innovations, new business development or technology in the state. Why aren’t we seeing that many companies?’” he said. “So, it was important for me to become part of AgTech so we can help develop startups that will become investable by, say, Grand Angels or Woodward Angels in Detroit in the future so that we can help innovate that agriculture ecosystem in Michigan.”
With that in mind, ACRE AgTech this summer plans to launch Michigan’s first accelerator cohort focused on solving agricultural problems in areas ranging from specialty crops and commodities to livestock and aquaculture.
Parker said there is sophisticated technology involved in farming, such as software, artificial intelligence, breeding seeds and optimizing water that spreads across the food industry.
So, AgTech will partner with corporations and GAN (a group of independent accelerators, partners and investors) to conduct a national search and select innovators to join the cohort. Once the cohort is selected, AgTech will offer mentoring, funding and educational opportunities for the innovators in a 12-week accelerator program.
Through the program, Parker said the organization hopes to launch some startup businesses by the end of August.
As the president of Grand Angels, Parker is uniquely aware of the resources that are available for entrepreneurs to utilize. He also knows how challenging starting a business can be.
He is the founder of TS Parker Products LLC, a global business that exports packaged food with a long shelf life like dried fruits, nuts and beverages, as well as cleaning products to countries in Asia.
“I was never in a sales role before (so) I really learned how difficult that really is and how you really have to drive to a close,” Parker said. “It was a skill that I had to develop that may have cost me some time. Time is always a challenge; how do you focus your time and keep your mind on the vision while doing all the detailed execution work? That can be a challenge because you can get buried in one or the other so that’s hard.
“It is also hard to move from a large company where you have a big staff around you and supporting you by doing a lot of different things and then all of a sudden you are on your own and you have to do every single thing yourself. It helps you appreciate everyone’s role in a business, every single person is doing something that is really important and if it doesn’t get done, you notice, but sometimes when it is getting done, you overlook it. Maybe I thought I knew it, but until you do everyone’s job, it is harder to appreciate how hard everyone is working in this world.”
He has since turned his business into a brokerage.
While he had to go through some growing pains as he started his own business, he has insight in leading a company through the early years.
An alumnus of Western Michigan University, Parker focused his studies on manufacturing administration during his undergraduate years and interned at Prince Corporation, an automotive supplier in Holland.
Following his graduation, he took on a full-time job at Prince, working as an engineer and designing vehicle interiors.
Afterward, he worked at Bissell Homecare Inc. in West Michigan for almost 18 years. During that time, he took on numerous roles, including project engineering manager, product manager and director of project management until he became the vice president of research and development.
“Bissell was great,” he said. “I probably developed the most skills there as we grew. Mark Bissell was good to me. He rotated me around the company a fair amount and gave me a lot of responsibilities at a young age — like being a vice president at the age of 30 when the company was about 125 to 130 years old. I was probably the second-youngest vice president there ever, next to Mark. So, he trusted me with a lot of responsibilities at a young age and let me make some mistakes and gave me a lot of good advice.”
While he worked at Bissell, he enrolled again at Western Michigan University, earning an MBA in international business.
After he left Bissell in 2008, he took all the knowledge he gained and started TS Parker Products in 2010. He later started offering consulting services by helping local companies with business strategy, product development, process development and product sourcing in 2015.
“I was really enjoying that, working with these small companies and that was when I became exposed to Grand Angels, which does venture capital and angel investing into small companies,” he said. “So, we have an opportunity to be able to help a whole lot of companies, and that is why I love doing this because we can help young companies grow, and hopefully, they will plant their seeds in Michigan and take root here and stay here.”
Parker said Grand Angels has invested in 44 companies and has 23 exits; three of them have been IPOs.
That is the same success Parker said he hopes to see in the ACRE AgTech Accelerator program as the organization begins selecting the cohort in April.
“(We) want to help develop AgTech companies in Michigan,” he said. “(We) are going to bring in our first cohort of companies to hopefully solve technical or business challenges in our agricultural community in Michigan.”