ProducePay, the leading industry resource for produce trading, recently obtained $205 million in debt facility from CoVenture and TCM Capital to expand its platform, which provides produce growers, shippers, and distributors with the resources and financing to grow their businesses.
The eLab alumni company was founded by Pablo Borquez Swarzbeck, MBA ’15. Borquez Swarzbeck originally arrived at Cornell University with the intention of learning the business skills he would need to return to his home country of Mexico and run Campos Borquez, his family’s farm. Instead, he saw an opportunity to tackle a problem faced by produce farmers everywhere.
Farmers of perishable goods, such as fruits and vegetables, have historically lost out on growth opportunities, because banks are unwilling to assign any collateral value to their produce. Borquez Swarzbeck imagined a fintech solution to assess the value of any crop at any point in time, allowing farmers to monetize their crops prior to harvest, and to connect with wholesale buyers to maximize their returns.
“It dawned on me that if I was ever going to try and create a solution like ProducePay, there would be no better place for me to marry the intersection between finance and agriculture than Cornell University,” said Borquez Swarzbeck, “It was with this realization that I decided to go full speed on my idea, using the resources available to me through Cornell, and in particular eLab, to incubate the company.”
Through eLab, Borquez Swarzbeck was introduced to customer discovery, the process of interviewing customers to determine product market fit, and business pitching, taking advantage of every pitching opportunity available to him: “These experiences at Cornell made it abundantly easier for me to go and pitch to venture capitalists. Basically, I had a buttoned-up pitch and a full proposal when it was time to go to market.”
Additionally, he points to eLab mentorship as being pivotal to the development of ProducePay. “Whenever you’re attempting to build something new from the ground up, there are almost too many ways to go about approaching the problem,” said Borquez Swarzbeck, “The mentorship provided by eLab helped me iron out all the details and build a better framework for approaching the problem I was attempting to solve.”
Borquez Swarzbeck’s eLab experience culminated in his startup being named “Student Business of the Year” by Entrepreneurship at Cornell in 2015, followed by securing the capital needed to launch ProducePay a week after graduating from the SC Johnson College of Business. Since then, the company has moved to Los Angeles and grown considerably over the course of five years. ProducePay now employs over 70 employees and has distributed more than $2 billion in financing to over 250 produce farmers and distributors. The company plans to use the new debt facility to scale-up their platform and become one of the biggest sources of consolidated funding for produce farmers in the United States.
“It’s very exciting to see how ProducePay has grown in a relatively short amount of time,” said eLab Director, Ken Rother, “The program is designed to help individuals build upon their industry knowledge, so they can develop their ideas into successful companies. ProducePay is an excellent example of this.”
Despite his company’s rapid growth, Borquez Swarzbeck has not lost focus of ProducePay’s founding mission.
“I come from a fourth-generation farming family, so I’m professionally and personally tied to this industry. The produce farming industry is the only industry I have ever known, so what really drives me as an entrepreneur is finding new and unique ways to help an industry that is close to me and my family,” said Borquez Swarzbeck.
Borquez Swarzbeck will be sharing his entrepreneurial journey onstage at the upcoming CSV20: Tech in Focus on March 24, 2020 in Mountain View, California. His advice for current and future eLab participants:
“Starting a company is very exciting, but it’s also a lot of work. Aligning your priorities from the beginning is key. Leverage the program and all that it offers to develop your idea, because if you do, by the time you are ready to go to market, it will be all the stronger for it.”