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Ag Entrepreneurship – Virtually and Globally

Content Author:
Kevin Kimle

March 25 was scheduled as a guest-day for ECON 334/Entrepreneurship in Agriculture, part of a regular dose of guest agricultural entrepreneurs that speak to students over the course of the semester in the classroom in Kildee Hall. 

What to do when the class moves to virtual, and the guest is in France? Adapt!

Agricultural entrepreneur BJ Brugman (’12 agricultural business) shared the story of his startup agtech business, Sentinel [now named Distynct], with the fifty-five students in ECON 334, and did so from Lyon, France. Brugman explained to students that he splits his time between Ames, where Sentinel is headquartered, and Lyon, where his wife is on assignment with Bayer. 

“We’re working from our 600 square foot apartment,” he explained. We’re restricted to one hour per day outside and can’t travel more than one kilometer from home under the coronavirus restrictions.”

Brugman shared the story of conceiving the idea of Sentinel, a business that connects swine producers to critical barn-level information by enabling precision livestock farming and remove management of livestock facilities.

“Livestock wasn’t a passion when I graduated from ISU and started a position with Elanco,” Brugman explained. “But as you work deeply in an industry like swine, you develop great relationships and an eye for solving problems.”

Students asked questions about working remotely, Sentinel technology development, business model, pricing, his past VEISHA leadership experience, career advice, and the decision to start an agricultural technology business. 

Of the fifty-five students enrolled in the course, there are three international students (China, Bolivia, Ecuador), ten students from other states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Minnesota, Indiana, and Florida) and the remaining forty-three from across Iowa. For fifty minutes, all were together virtually for a discussion with Brugman and instructors Kevin Kimle and Dave Krog.

BJ Brugman giving an online presentation