Michigan-based AgHelp Corp competed as one of four national finalists in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 2019 Farm Bureau Ag Innovation Challenge.
Led by founder Feliciano Paredes Jr., the Belding-area startup participated in a “Shark Tank” style live pitch presentation at AFBF’s 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans on Jan. 13, where the company responded to questions from a panel of judges.
AgHelp has developed an agricultural “app-based” employment recruitment tool that will link interested farmers and potential employees together, as well as connect farmworkers with support agencies and services. The app is intended to be used for both domestic and H-2A Seasonal Guest Worker recruitment.
According to Paredes, even though they weren’t selected as the national winner for the $15,000 grand prize, the experience and the competition provided a great opportunity — to learn and to gain national exposure.
“It was definitely an exciting opportunity to have been selected as one of the four (finalists) by the American Farm Bureau,” Paredes saidS. “We're really excited about creating more awareness around the work that we're doing to help agriculture employers, whether they're in Michigan or across the country, to connect with labor and resources.”
Paredes, along with his wife, Lori Godfrey, and brothers Sadoc and Ivan seized on the idea of developing the AgHelp app, which is based on first-hand, real-life experiences as children of a migrant family.
“For 10-plus years we traveled across the country harvesting fruit, from Texas to Florida (and) up to Michigan,” Paredes said. “So a lot of the issues that we're trying to solve with AgHelp now came out of those life experiences.”
That approach is paying off, through the use of technology to provide what Paredes calls a “holistic,” three-prong approach to connect farm employers, potential farmworkers and an often overlooked component — farmworker support agencies — through the AgHelp app, which launched last October.
“The third piece really differentiates us and provides that holistic approach where we're connecting the workers with the support services like education and training opportunities or just health clinics that they may need, whether they're working in Michigan or maybe planning on traveling areas outside of the state,” Paredes explained.
Paredes said the app will also address another first-hand experienced difficulty for potential employees — namely security in knowing precisely what jobs are available and the terms of employment, rather than relying on word-of-mouth job opportunities. Bad information on potential jobs and unnecessary travel time can prove costly and result in up to 10 weeks of unemployment for farmworkers.
“With AgHelp, they're getting more transparency, so if they're deciding to make a decision to go from Texas to Michigan, they'll actually be able to see the terms and conditions of the job; they'll have a record of it rather than going across the country or even within Michigan on a whim based on a flyer or word-of-mouth,” Paredes said.
Since launching last October, more than 1,200 workers have registered on the app, with an additional 100 new workers registering each week. An additional 500 support service agencies have also registered. Paredes estimates that 200 agricultural employers across the country have pre-registered to sign up at the end of January when the employer features are fully functioning.
Ag employers will be able to choose either a six- or 12-month subscription option, create a profile and then be able to start posting jobs and reaching workers either locally or nationally. While the cost will vary based on the number of jobs posted, Paredes said agricultural employers will spend, on average, $30 to $35 per job posting.
“Once you've posted a job on our platform, you're getting the opportunity to reach workers across the country to see your job posting, not just locally,” Paredes said. “Employers will also have the option to create a profile which potential workers can then follow. If an employer has new jobs that come up, workers will be notified of those opportunities.”
The app will also provide chat features for employers, where employers can facilitate any additional questions or necessary discussions to potential employees.
“We’re really wanting to make it a tool, not just to connect employers with workers, but as a way for them to manage their labor recruiting throughout the year or season,” Paredes concluded.
Following the national competition, judges selected FarmlandFinder, another web-based services organization, based out of Ames, Iowa, as the national winner of the Ag Innovation Challenge, while the People’s Choice Award went to the North Carolina-based startup Glean LLC.
Startup funds for the 2019 Ag Innovation Challenge were provided by the sponsors Farm Credit, John Deere, Bayer Crop Science, Country Financial, Farm Bureau Financial Services, Farm Bureau Bank. This marks the fifth year of the challenge, which is the first national business competition focused exclusively on rural entrepreneurs launching food and agriculture businesses.