Working with the Brightest Minds in Technology

GroundBreakers Austin event helps Deere tap into talent-rich startup community


Helping meet the world’s ever-growing need for food, fuel, and shelter requires great ideas. That’s why John Deere’s new Innovation Hub in Austin, Texas, recently held a first-of-its-kind GroundBreakers competition.

Three judges line up to shake the winner's hand
Event judges (Left to Right) Heather Bishop, Mark Fincham, and Michele Kaiser, all from John Deere, congratulate Topher Haddad, CEO/Co-founder of Albedo (Right).

Select members of the global startup community were invited to the event in Austin to see whose idea would earn them an invitation to the 2023 cohort of John Deere’s Startup Collaborator program. The program, launched in 2019, finds those companies whose technology could add the most value for Deere customers. Over the course of the year-long program, Deere tests these technologies with customers and dealers.

“We continue to search for new and interesting ideas that will deliver value to our customers, even if we’re not sure yet of exactly how that might look,” said Michele Kaiser, a business development manager for John Deere’s Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) who leads the Startup Collaborator. “We must be forward thinking in our innovation and not afraid to explore new territory.”

Kevin Friedenberg, a business development manager for ISG, said Austin was the ideal location for the event.

“We specifically chose Austin as the location for the first GroundBreakers because the city has rapidly emerged as a growing destination for entrepreneurs and innovators looking to help solve the challenges that we at Deere find so critical,” he said.

Destination Austin

Austin’s reputation for attracting some of the brightest minds in technology is why John Deere opened an Innovation Hub there earlier this year.

“Opening our office in Austin was a key strategic decision from both a talent diversification and ecosystem collaboration perspective,” Friedenberg said. “This new office enables Deere to further build its growing technology team with existing and new talent who consistently strive to help our customers be more productive, sustainable, and profitable.”

It also gives the company a chance to collaborate with startups like the winner of the GroundBreakers Austin event, who are looking to change the world.

“Our Austin location allows us to connect and collaborate with local universities and startups to promote and accelerate innovation in precision agriculture, automation, and autonomy in a geography that is very close to where our customers are using it in the field,” Friedenberg explained.

And the winner is

Imagine how high-quality images taken from space of a field or a job site might help farmers or people working in construction. That’s what John Deere employees will be doing as they start to work with Albedo, an Austin-based company, that specializes in producing high resolution satellite imagery. The company uses its very-low-earth-orbit (VLEO) satellites to create thermal imagery at the highest resolution commercially available.

Topher Haddad, co-founder and CEO of Albedo, said the company’s technology can play a variety of roles in helping decrease manual operations in precision agriculture and construction.

“The resolution of Albedo’s imagery will enable applications that have been limited by lower resolution satellites or operational limitations of imagery collected from planes,” Haddad explained. “The breadth of commercial applications for Albedo’s imagery spans markets, including precision agriculture, property insurance, utilities vegetation management, construction and real estate, pipeline monitoring, urban planning, and many others.” Kaiser said Deere is looking forward to working with companies like Albedo.

“We need to help farmers solve food production challenges in more efficient ways,” Kaiser said. “This requires a lot of great ideas, and we know we can’t solve them alone, which is why it makes sense to work with innovative and pioneering startup companies like Albedo.”