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Stevens Point ag tech company finds itself on national stage in AFBF contest

Grace Connatser
Wisconsin State Farmer
Matthieu Vollmer

Arbré, a Stevens Point company specializing in ag inventory management, has made it to the semi-finals of the American Farm Bureau Federation's "Ag Innovation Challenge."

Only 10 companies nationwide were selected to compete in the pitching contest, where they will show off their technological creations and vie for the $50,000 Farm Bureau Entrepreneur of the Year grand award. As a semi-finalist, they've won $7,500 and also received a pitch coaching opportunity with Cornell University business faculty and networking opportunities with the US Department of Agriculture.

Arbré president and CEO Matt Vollmer said it's an exciting time for the company, a startup that became incorporated four years ago to solve inventory management problems in the horticulture niche of the ag industry. Vollmer said the company's doubled its sales revenue every year since its inception, and their latest concept "ArbreScan" is what Vollmer described as the "breakthrough module."

"(It) really spun out of our standard inventory management software. ... We have been doing inventory management systems in the horticulture space for almost eight years," Vollmer said. "We were able to build a solution to a significant problem. As a very customer-centric company, it really comes down to the needs of the customers."

ArbreScan, Vollmer said, allows plant producers to count their inventory more efficiently by doing automated cycle counting without the need for producers to physically go out and locate, count and measure their inventory, saving time and labor. He said it improves the producer's bottom line and enables them to focus on other business activities.

Vollmer added that their product came about as a result of listening to feedback from their clients. Their products have focused on mobile and web applications for inventory management, implementing radio-frequency identification (RFID) chipping commonly used in inventory tracking. The company also says their solutions are portable and compatible with many internal systems.

"We identified that our customers needed better ways to update inventory counts in a much more efficient manner," Vollmer said. "After discussing that with several customers and potential customers, we realized ... the problem was significant enough that customers were willing to spend money to fix the problem."

A client uses the ArbreScan software that allows you to easily track your inventory using RFID chipping.

Vollmer said he didn't anticipate being recognized on a national scale, and the experience of being selected has been exciting, especially after having to take hours to finish the application. While the company was originally set to perform their pitch live at the AFBF Annual Convention in January 2021, the event has recently switched to a virtual format – but the pitch competition will still go on, one way or another.

Arbré was also a contender for the 2020 Wisconsin Innovation Awards, a semi-finalist out of 380 companies, Vollmer said. If they win the $50,000 prize, it'll be reinvested into ArbreScan by making critical hires, like for engineers who can "mature and scale the product for distribution," Vollmer said.

While he said other companies are doing similar things in the market right now, Vollmer believes his company sets itself apart from others. The company currently has clients in 21 states and five countries and there is no central office because the company has been remote from the beginning. Vollmer said this allows them to adapt easily to the virtual formats everyone is using right now, because they've already been doing it.

"Doing remote business and participating in virtual events is not uncommon for us, and actually we're pretty comfortable with that," Vollmer said. "To be supported by the Ag Innovation Challenge and our company being included in that was exciting and I'm very thankful for that."

The Ag Innovation Challenge is in its seventh year and is designed for rural-based entrepreneurs to showcase their ideas. Other contenders in the competition include, AgriHoodBaltimore of Baltimore, Md.; Agro Empresas Black Belt of Coamo, Puerto Rico; BoldCypress LLC, of Oran, Mo.; Butter Meat Co. of Perry, N.Y.; Harvust of Walla Walla, Wash.; Insulights.com of Akron, Iowa; Parasanti of Thrall, Texas; Row Shaver Systems LLC of Great Bend, Kan.; and TerraClear Inc. of Grangeville, Idaho.

"The hard-working entrepreneurs recognized today are committed to providing solutions for some of the biggest challenges facing agriculture," said AFBF President Zippy Duvall in a press release. "This includes supporting farms, ranches and rural economies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."