Transitioning From Working In The Business to On The Business - Entrepreneurial Leadership with Mitchell Hora
Mitchell Hora (Iowa State University 2017 Agricultural Systems Technology, Agronomy) started his business, Continuum Ag, in January of 2016 while a student.
"Continuum Ag started as an agronomic consulting business, just me pulling soil samples and making recommendations for farmers," commented Mitchell. "My first customers were farmers in Washington County, my home. Later, I started to consult with farmers from as far away as South Africa and Australia. Continuum Ag was international."
Mitchell worked with farmers who were implementing innovative agronomic practices often referred to as regenerative agriculture. Practices such as reduced tillage and the use of cover crops aim to improve biodiversity and soil health. The Washington County farmers Mitchell worked with had been on the leading edge of experimentation with regenerative practices.
The initial business plan was to work directly with farmers as an agronomic consultant to improve their profitability through soil health. The need to effectively manage soil health data motivated a change in direction for the business.
"When collecting and analyzing soil samples and fertilizer recommendations, we end up with large amounts of data,” said Mitchell. “That data needs to be shared with farmer customers and then stored for future reference."
The development of software to manage all the data generated by Continuum Ag became necessary. "To solve the bigger issue of data organization and display we developed TopSoil,” said Mitchell. “TopSoil is a software platform that enables soil health data storage and analysis."
TopSoil enables agronomic consultants to upload soil health data for their farmer customers. It uses maps and other graphics to display soil data and fertilizer recommendations. Users are charged a subscription fee based on the number of acres they have enrolled.
The TopSoil software helped transition the business from a regional consulting business to one that can scale nationally and internationally. "Continuum Ag’s focus changed from working directly with farmers to bringing other agronomic consultants onto the software platform,” said Mitchell. “TopSoil enables agronomic consultants to better serve their farmer customers.”
As a result, Continuum Ag’s business model has shifted to working with large businesses who use TopSoil with their farmer customers. “TopSoil enables farmers to manage their entire farm in accordance with regenerative practices,” said Mitchell. “It's not just about soil data and fertilizer recommendations anymore."
Just as the business model for Continuum Ag has evolved and changed, so has Mitchell’s role.
"I am now working on the business instead of in the business,” said Mitchell. “Continuum Ag has gotten to a point where I can focus on the direction of the business, and I am able to hire good people to ensure that the business operates every day effectively. We now have nine full-time and fifteen part-time employees."
2022 will be another significant year for Continuum Ag. "Strategic partnerships aligning the business with the right groups and people has been significant,” noted Mitchell. The revenue from the first quarter of this year is double all of last year's."