Member Profile – David Callele

David Callele has been an SCN member for 6 years and on the Board for almost as long.  He grew up in the Quill Lake area, on the family farm between Watson and Leroy.  His Mom was a teacher and so maybe that partially explains his love of education – he has 4 degrees, a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering and a Bachelors, MSc and PhD in Computer Science, all from the University of Saskatchewan (UofS). He has held faculty positions at the UofS and Sask Polytech (formerly SIAST) and has been a researcher at Bell-Northern Research (Canada’s top-ranked research facility at the time), an entrepreneur, part of about a dozen start-ups, as well as a team member at local tech companies during the course of his career.

His first entrepreneurial endeavour was building grain bins when he was 16 and his most recent is Experience First – a consulting company that provides product definition and customer experience design to its clients and specialized Requirements Engineering services. “This involves engineers looking at a set of data pertaining to the goals and objectives of the software: how it will work and what are the qualities of the properties it must have to provide the results needed. Engineers then work forward from these data to look at specific coding solutions that support these results.” (definition from Techopedia).

As an SCN investor, do you have a specific sector you are most interested in?
What I look for is a product or service that addresses a regional challenge, has a customer base for growth, and, has application for a broader community.  I am a farm kid and agriculture is a great sector for technology development, because quite simply – everyone needs to eat! As one of the first sciences, agriculture has been successful in developing, growing and increasing production through ag biotech and precision farming. And agriculture and information technology (IT) will continue to find ways to bring added-value.

Ag Exchange pitched to SCN and received investment.  How did they get your attention?
They came to SCN for financing in 2013 and their pitch ‘ticked’ many of my investment-decision boxes.  There has been a lot of success on the precision ag side of the equation – the expense side of the ledger. The Ag Exchange concept was a beautiful model for marketing grain – the revenue side of the ledger.  They presented a rational business model with reasonable expectations and a believable path to revenue.  It is safe to say that only a small fraction of the pitches we hear manage to do all of that. One final comment about Lyle Erhmantraut – President and CEO of Ag Exchange.  He listened.  He came for more than an investment.

What did they need besides investment?
Lyle presented his concept and the market opportunity.  What he needed was the technology to make it happen – money and a development team.  With the Canadian Wheat Board no longer controlling grain sales, this was an opportunity to connect farmers directly with grain buyers on the open market.  So, I came in as an investor, and then joined the company in 2014.  We created a cloud-based service, a web-application platform that can be accessed on any device by farmers or producers and grain buyers. It is membership-based with three, fixed-price membership levels for farmers. There is nothing hidden or anonymous about the members; both buyers and sellers must fully disclose their identities. Those wishing to sell, put out an ask.  Those wishing to buy, put out bids. It is simple and elegant and its working!  Lyle will be telling his story in a later edition of the newsletter, so I’ll let him talk more about the company’s journey over the past 3 or 4 years and what the future holds for Ag Exchange.

How has SCN and the investment community evolved over the past 6 years?
The organization is maturing – with much credit going to Marie for the work she has done building the infrastructure to assist companies with their pitches and arranging follow-on meetings for interested investors.  And we are building our membership. There is still much more to do. As part of the Rehearsal Committee, I still see a disconnect between the ask and the reality of the investment opportunity.  And that, I think, is a weakness in (but slowly improving) entrepreneur’s understanding of the Angel investment community – that rational business model with reasonable expectations and a believable path to revenue – I mentioned earlier.

Final thoughts?
As an entrepreneur, as a business owner, an employee and an investor, the lessons I have best learned are those that have cost me a lot of money! Because being smart is Not Enough, experience matters.