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Agri-Trak Founder Jamie Sonneville is an AgTech Trailblazer

It’s been a couple of big years for Jamie Peters Sonneville. In 2021, the founder and CEO of Agri-Trak, a farm management application suite, was named to the prestigious Rochester Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 list, which honors men and women under 40 who have achieved professional success and are giving back to the community.

A couple of weeks later, her startup was a top 20 finalist in the international Grow-NY food & agriculture competition, an even more prestigious competition where hundreds of companies globally compete for millions in investment money. In 2020, she won the Wayne County Startup Pitch Competition.

And to think it all started because her farmer husband asked for some help.

The Birth of a Startup

Several years ago, Jamie founded itClix, a consulting business in Pultneyville where she and her team built websites and apps for other small companies. Her husband, Jason, had been running their family farm for five years and was overwhelmed with daily tasks and keeping up with paperwork. “Do you think you could come back and help me on the farm?” he asked.

Jamie agreed to help but didn’t want to give up the information technology world she loved or shift too much focus from her own business. The couple started talking about options and realized that Jamie could leverage her experience in technology and agriculture to create a tool that could help Jason accomplish his tasks easier, faster, and better.

We started asking ourselves lots of questions about what a tool could do and how it would operate. I had the resources through my itClix business I could use to develop software that could solve those problems,” Jamie explains. “Our first version was very rudimentary, but we released it and it showed other growers that we could solve the on-farm problems they were having.”

They started adding more features and functions, and the software began making money. “About 18 months ago I realized that we really had something here because I saw how interested people were when I showed them the technology,” Jamie remembers.

Fueled by the initial response, Jamie entered the Wayne County Startup Pitch Competition and walked away with the grand prize. The money and judges’ feedback convinced her to leave her position as Director of Technology at the Newark School District and focus on itClix and Agri-Trak.

Then came the Grow-NY competition, where she realized that she had the skillset and experience in technology, management, and education to create a successful stand-alone company where the whole focus was Agri-Trak. “I discovered there was potential for something much larger, but I didn’t know how to go from a lifestyle business to a legitimate startup. The Grow-NY process helped me think bigger. I love a challenge and I love to be pushed. Grow-NY helped me with both of those things.”

Jamie (center) won the Audience Choice award at the 2021 Grow-NY competition which included a $10,000 prize to invest in her business. She’s shown in the photo here with her Grow-NY mentor Michael D’Eredita (left), Director of the Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Creativity at Le Moyne College and Maureen Ballatori (right) Founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio.

Now instead of solving one or two on-farm problems, Agri-Trak is a complete platform for managing farm operations. The software collects farm data and brings it together to produce in-depth reports, in turn allowing each farm to make data-informed decisions about their specific enterprise. The customizable modules help farm operators manage things such as employee and H2-A contracts, payroll, time sheets, production records, and enterprise reports.

Currently, she is growing her sales team in Upstate New York with plans to expand to different regions and parts of the country. She’s also looking at global markets. “I had a conference call this morning with somebody from the Netherlands who thinks this is a perfect product to sell there. We’re starting to engage in conversations on what that would look like and how we could support each other. It looks like it’s go big or go home.”

To that end, she is currently in negotiations with the company’s first lead investor and actively seeking additional investments. Her goal is to grow Agri-Trak in Wayne County and create jobs there because not only does she believe it is the place where the company can thrive, but it is also the community that has her heart.

A Past and Future in Wayne County

Jamie and Jason are fifth generation apple growers in Wayne County who both grew up in Williamson. She attended Cornell University for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, studying education, communications, instructional design, and computer science. She then went to work for the Williamson Central School District where she became Director of Technology. Currently, she serves as President of the Board of Education for Williamson Central School District.

From a very early age, I felt connected to the education world,” she explains. “I love to teach people and help find a way to do things easier, faster, and better. I love combining my technology and teaching interests to help people in this area be more competitive and better understand what they are doing on the farm.”

She believes she has found the perfect place to start this company. “I think Wayne County is a really unique place. There are a lot of multi-generational families that are living here. You’re surrounded by other people in your generation who have had similar upbringings, and it creates this really tight-knit fabric of a community that allows you to make connections.”

These connections have paid off not only in Agri-Trak sales locally, but also in connecting to larger businesses in the apple industry whether they’re processors, packagers, or buyers. “Many of those organizations have had multi-generation connections to people in this area. So, it’s not as scary to pick up the phone and call one of those national corporations. It definitely gives you a leg up when you’re trying to build something.”

Living in such a close-knit community also allowed her to develop Agri-Trak more efficiently because her initial customers were neighbors who wanted to see her succeed and were patient with quirks in the early versions. Her family also helped develop her expertise in the market. “My dad is one of 12 and many of them and their kids are in the Wayne County apple industry. I think that’s helped to make me a thought leader,” Jamie says. “Jason and I have been successful in our farm operations, but we’re also surrounded by other successful farms and people who are willing to share.”

Jamie wants the multi-generational aspect of Wayne County to continue and that’s one major reason she is intent on growing in the area. She explains that there are lots of highly skilled and educated individuals who would like to stay local or return but there are not enough jobs available. “To be able to provide a place for people who have the skills and want to come back to the community is really important to me, and it is important to these growers I’m working with too.”

Maureen Ballatori is a LOCATE Finger Lakes Business Journal contributing writer and a member of the organization’s board of directors. She is founder and CEO of 29 Design Studio, a creative agency for food, beverage and agriculture brands. Ballatori also owns Metro Collective which helps Upstate NY shared space operators activate their workspaces.

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