I still vividly remember the day my dad walked in the kitchen door carrying an enormous cardboard box, with a smile nearly as wide as the box itself.
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Inside was our family’s first VCR, a very exciting day indeed. For my Baby Boomer parents, the VCR was a huge leap in technology. I was too young to understand the technological significance, but still thought the concept of watching a movie in the rec room instead of a movie theatre was a pretty neat idea.
The VCR must have weighed 20 pounds and only my dad and I could ever grasp how to program it. It’s rudimentary technology by today’s standards, but it was a significant technological milestone in the 1980s.
One of the first movies I remember watching on this VCR was Revenge of the Nerds. I was too young to understand much of the adult humour, but old enough to understand that being a so-called nerd wasn’t great for your social life, and I didn’t want to be one when I grew up.
Many, many years later, I’ve come to understand that being a nerd isn’t a bad thing at all.
The ‘nerds’ from the movie, which was released in 1984, were most likely the ones to succeed and become millionaires during the heyday of Silicon Valley during the next decade.
I don’t think of nerds in the same way as I did as a child; in fact it’s often the ‘nerds’ that move the needle in many industries.
During the Ag Tech Breakfast at Canada’s Outdoor Farm Show last month, held the morning of Sept. 13, several entrepreneurs and innovators were invited to talk about an agricultural technology they’ve developed to help advance Canadian agriculture.
One speaker wasn’t from a company, but from the non-profit Innovative Farmers Association of Ontario (IFAO).
The speaker, IFAO executive director Tori Waugh, said although the organization hasn’t developed a product, it “does the nerdy work” of understanding how an agricultural technology that shows real promise can be adopted in the field.
Her reasoning is “sometimes you have a great solution. And adoption just doesn’t happen. And it’s so frustrating for entrepreneurs, who, especially when they’re coming from such an area of expertise, to just not get the traction” she said.
“They could do all the market research they want. And every single time it gets them to the same conclusion that they have a great product that’s just not making sales.
“And, you know, part of that, especially in the agricultural community, is community.”
She encouraged the presenters and audience to involve using farmers early on in the innovation process. “Just inject farmers into it.”
It helps develop from concept to product within an Ontario agricultural context, she noted.
In addition to the ‘nerdy work’ required to move an innovation forward, funding is also needed.
When asked to identify some of the biggest challenges they face, all the innovators agreed that it was financial.
“How do you raise the funding you need to achieve the ambitions you have for growth and scale,” said Mohammad Rahbari of BioLine.
“We all have those perfect technologies that should be adopted by everybody. But it takes money and it takes resources and people on the ground to communicate and educate to get to that end market.”
Convincing a farmer to use a technology, when they’re used to another, is also a barrier.
Shari van de Pol of Cattlelytics said “even if you have your cell phone and you don’t like it, switching to a new cell phone, you’re not [necessarily] going to do it even if it’s better.”
That’s where building a community comes in.
If you are developing a product, she said, it’s ideal to “find farms that say, you know, we see what you’re trying to do. We know it’s a little bit painful to switch. But we’ll test this out with you,” which can even be done in parallel with the product they’re currently using.
We can now watch movies on our cell phones and computer screens. Visual technology didn’t stop with the VCR, because somewhere, a ‘nerd’ with an idea kept moving the technology forward.
Be a nerd. If the opportunity presents itself, help out an entrepreneur or startup company with its product idea.
You never know where it may lead.