Alabama Rural-Owned Small Business of the Year
Christina Woerner McInnis of Soilkit by AgriTech Corporation
Updated March 2023: The US Small Business Administration has announced the 2023 Small Business Week award winners. National Small Business Week (NSBW) will be held from April 30-May 6, 2023.
“Christina Woerner McInnis is a fifth-generation farmer from the Woerner Family and her family has been farming Alabama soils for over 100 years. In 2019, Christina founded of AgriTech Corp and created the product “SoilKit” which is a soil health technology platform that starts with a lab-based soil test and finishes with the virtual SoilKit365 annual program providing prescriptive product recommendations throughout the year that are customized based on the crop the user is growing, the chemistry in their soil, and the seasonality of their hardiness zone. Initially, when SoilKit first went to market, it was only direct-to-consumers at soilkit.com and online on Amazon. Under Christina’s leadership, AgriTech Corp landed contracts with eight lawn and garden distributors, one major land grant university, one big-box retailer and dozens of landscape companies in its first year of operation. Like many businesses, ArgTech had suffered during the pandemic as a young company but was able to secure SBA’s paycheck protection program (PPP) forgivable loans and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) COVID-10 relief.”
Overapplication of any lawn chemical can result in runoff that carries toxic levels of chemicals or excessive nutrients into lakes, streams and groundwater. Christina McInnis, CEO of AgriTech Corp, is doing something about it. She has developed a product, SoilKit, to help reduce the chemical runoff of commercial and residential lawns and gardens that is poisoning America’s watersheds and killing vulnerable ecosystems.
Alabama is one of the most richly biodiverse states in the nation with over 77,000 miles of rivers flowing into the Gulf. Yet, Alabama’s Gulf Coast has the largest dead-zone ever. Delicate ecosystems are being disrupted and species are going extinct. The culprits: the overapplication of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other pollutants.
Christina developed SoilKit as a consumer-friendly, lab-based soil testing kit that tests soil for pH, nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, organic matter, and micro-nutrients. When Christina started the process of developing SoilKit, she looked at available options on the market – they were antiquated, difficult to access (often only available at county agricultural extension offices), and complicated to understand. Because consumers are unable to easily access or understand if they should, and how they can fix their soil, they weren’t doing the testing leading to misapplication, and often overapplication of fertilizers. This is incredibly bad for the environment. But how could she get these kits into the hands of consumers across the country?
Yolanda “Yo” Johnson, an America’s SBDC State Star recipient came to the rescue. Christina and Yolanda connected around ten years ago through Christina’s husband’s business.
She goes beyond business. She knows you. That’s impactful because it’s not just business – it’s not just AgriTech — it’s a female owned business, four kids, shelter in place, teaching kids, internet crashing…it’s critical to really understand not only the business but the many other connections that go outside of it.”
Even before COVID, Yo was able to provide critical assistance through market research and statistics that Christina was able to take to Lowes and make a compelling case for stocking SoilKit. “When I’ve got Lowes Corporate on the line. I can quote …I’ve got 129.9 million households and three out of four have a lawn or garden 80% do this, and 20% do that…that was huge and powerful for me right out of the gate. Just having the science based knowledge through the subscriptions that SBDC has that she helped me get..at no cost to me!” SoilKit is now stocked in every Lowes in the US.
AgriTech’s next big challenge was COVID. Everyone, especially Christina, had so many questions. Christine was thinking about her large staff of working moms and how she would continue to provide them with stable employment as she watched 100 purchase orders get canceled overnight. Yo was able to provide Christina with comfort by letting her know she was not the only one worried about the evolving situation. Yo contextualized and defined the situation and provided tools, resources, and information for Christine to make the right decision to keep her company going for her employees, customers, and the environment. Thanks to Yo, AgriTech was able to take advantage of the PPP and EIDL – critical financing that kept AgriTech going through some very dark days.
Beyond overcoming business and personal challenges, AgriTech continues to have a positive impact on the environment and community. Through their retail product, SoilKit, they help consumers, municipal governments, and landscapers know “how to use, when to use, and how much [fertilizer] to use.” Additionally, due to the war in Ukraine, fertilizer prices have tripled, making the application of just the right amount of fertilizer necessary to keep expenses under control. Further, they have partnered with Auburn University to develop the Auburn Soil Test Kit (Powered by SoilKit) to provide soil testing through land grant universities.
AgriTech is optimistically looking towards the future and working with urgency to roll out new products and services to meet consumer demand and environmental challenges. AgriTech is interested in working with other land grant universities to provide soil testing and working with investors to continue to build their product line for consumers with both lawns, gardens and raised beds. There will be challenges as AgriTech continues to grow, however, Yo will be there with market research, encouraging words, and the dynamic problem-solving attitude that has made her one of the top performing SBDC advisors in Alabama.