Stone & Chalk partners SproutX for new ANZ, NAB-backed agri-fintech hub

With support from ANZ and NAB, Stone & Chalk has headed south, partnering with SproutX to launch its Melbourne-based agriculture and finance technology accelerator hub.

Agriculture-focused innovation accelerator SproutX has partnered with Sydney's Stone & Chalk for a new hub in Melbourne that combines finance with agri-tech.

SproutX will house the hub at its co-working space, which will be centred on exploring how finance technology can solve agriculture issues. It is touted by the pair as highly important given 40 percent of the world's labour force is engaged in the industry.

According to SproutX accelerator director Andrew Lai, co-locating makes "absolute sense" for both organisations.

"There is a huge but often overlooked connection between agriculture and financial services, and savvy startups are starting to take notice," Lai said, calling the agri-fintech initiative a world-first.

SproutX will give the fintech community access to the agriculture space and will provide Stone & Chalk with 60 workstations as part of the Sydney-based accelerator's first phase of interstate growth, which is slated to kick off next month.

Stone & Chalk, which is backed by the likes of EY, Westpac, ANZ Bank, American Express, and Optus, has appointed former Fintech Victoria CEO Alan Tsen to lead the team as GM for Stone & Chalk Melbourne.

Corporate partners for Stone & Chalk Melbourne include Australian Super, Findex, Genworth, Liberty Financial, in addition to banking giants ANZ and NAB.

SproutX closed its AU$10 million agtech venture capital fund in March, with backing from Artesian Venture Partners and superannuation fund Hostplus.

The fund will invest in agtech startups accepted into SproutX's accelerator programs over the next four years, with its 2017 accelerator program slated to accept 10 agtech teams, each of which will receive AU$40,000 in exchange for 8 percent equity. They will also have access to mentorship and workspace in SproutX's Melbourne innovation hub.

In addition, the agtech startups will have the opportunity to distribute their products through SproutX's corporate partners, including Ruralco and Findex.

According to Stone & Chalk, Melbourne is home to over 50 fintech firms.

Fintech Australia, a not-for-profit body focused on fintech development in the country, recently called for more co-working spaces dedicated to finance technology, citing a report [PDF] sponsored by EY that highlights the economic benefit in providing a space for "collaboration".

"The environment has to foster and enhance collaboration and create opportunities for a 'collision of ideas'. Hubs, accelerators, and meetups are all part of supporting this vibrant environment," EY Global & UK Fintech Leader Imran Gulamhuseinwala said in the EY FinTech Australia Census 2016.

Last month, the Victorian government announced plans to establish a fintech hub in Melbourne's inner-west, aiming to attract investment and position itself as the fintech capital of the country.

The state government has only released a request for proposal to establish the fintech hub at the Goods Shed North in Docklands; however, Victoria's Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade Philip Dalidakis already has big plans for the hub, including the introduction of targeted mentoring services to help resident startups develop new business skills, connect with customers, and bring new products and services to market.

The Goods Shed is also home to Data61's Cyber Security and Innovation Hub, which opened in October.

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