A hitch pin is a simple steel rod that connects a tractor to other equipment. With a hitch pin, a farmer can use a tractor to plant, spray, haul — you name it. Without this unassuming device, work would stop. So, how does a hitch pin relate to some of the most advanced technology in agriculture — technology that just might help feed a future population of nine billion people?
“We’re the digital equivalent — connecting supply and demand,” said Trevor McKeeman, CEO and founder of HitchPin.com, a digital marketplace that creates new business opportunities by connecting farmers directly with customers and suppliers.
Think of HitchPin as the eBay, Uber, or Airbnb for the agriculture industry. It’s a marketplace where farmers can list and find various products and services. The platform started as a network for farmers to buy and sell hay and quickly expanded to grain, equipment, specialty crops and custom farming services. HitchPin also streamlines monetary transactions by holding funds securely to ensure timely, reliable payments between buyers and sellers.
When McKeeman started pitching HitchPin in 2016, potential investors loved the idea. They suggested he move it to San Francisco for “money and talent” to get it off the ground. That didn’t sit too well with McKeeman, who grew up farming near Abilene, Kansas, and graduated from Kansas State University. He felt strongly the company should be headquartered close to farmers, and selected Manhattan, Kansas as the spot.
“There are strategic advantages to locating here. With resources and students from K-State, we’ve got a pipeline of really bright individuals,” he said. “I’ve had a chance to bring people from all over the world to Manhattan. Most of the time they have no idea what’s actually here — how advanced the work happening here is, the capacity of the community — and without exception, they leave impressed. The technology, talent and startups here in Kansas are just as advanced as anywhere else in the world.”
HitchPin’s team covers multiple time zones, but their office headquarters is co-located with K-State Innovation Partners, a collaborative enterprise adjacent to campus dedicated to supporting new and expanding technology-based, high-growth businesses.
“That is a real gem for the community. They’re very forward thinking,” McKeeman said. “I appreciate the opportunity to be co-located there because of the exchange of ideas. We mutually connect each other into new technologies and make introductions.”
In addition to co-location, K-State Innovation Partners has supported HitchPin with technical/business services and facilitation of capital investment.
“Trevor and the HitchPin team are truly providing a blueprint for the startup community, not only in exemplifying the opportunities that are available within the convergence of digital technologies and agriculture, but in showing that successful early-stage businesses within this space can launch and thrive in the region due to the almost innate agricultural subject-matter expertise that exists here,” said Ken Williams, chief commercialization and licensing officer, K-State Innovation Partners.
The community of other local entrepreneurs — both established and up-and-coming — has been an incredible resource for McKeeman.
“One of the most valuable resources as an entrepreneur is to be around other people who have started companies,” said McKeeman, who has founded three tech companies. “Many people think starting a company is glamorous. That’s not the case. It’s brutal,” he said. “Being around people who have gone through it — there’s a real brotherhood and sisterhood there. These people have been helped by others and they feel an obligation to help the next group of entrepreneurs. I feel that way, too.”
HitchPin’s internship program provides students with hands-on exposure to and insight on starting a company. Providing that opportunity is important to McKeeman. When he attended K-State, the university didn’t have a program in entrepreneurship. What does any budding entrepreneur do in this situation? Craft his own way, of course.
McKeeman built his own custom curriculum to learn more. He graduated from K-State with a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in management, economics and entrepreneurship. After working for years in technology, federal legislative policy and startups, he went back to school and received a mid-career master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership.
McKeeman attributes his entrepreneurial spirit and thirst for new technology to his upbringing.
“I grew up farming in Kansas. I was a product of farming in the 1980s, which was a difficult time to be on a farm, and we survived. My folks did things differently and I attribute their willingness to try new things to our success,” he said.
Surviving and thriving are still very much on McKeeman’s mind as HitchPin grows. He wants to provide opportunities for established and new farm operations to be successful. Older generations can find the services, labor and products they need to continue farming. Younger generations can hire out their services as a springboard to expand.
“There’s a generation of farmers who want to continue farming, but it’s increasingly hard. On the flip side, you have a younger generation that want to get started in an industry with very few entry opportunities. We help them find services and products they need more easily,” McKeeman said. “We’re a business with a soul.”
McKeeman sees a global opportunity for HitchPin as well. With the population projected to reach nine billion people by 2050, the agriculture industry is faced with the challenge of feeding those mouths.
“This is one of the greatest challenges of our time as humans. Food production is immensely complex from a logistics standpoint. We’ve got a lot of work to do to feed the world,” McKeeman said. “I’m hopeful HitchPin can be part of the solution. The idea that we can connect buyers and sellers and make that process easier can have a global impact.”
For now, HitchPin is focused on the United States. McKeeman’s workspace includes a monitor that maps out all the listings on the network. During our conversation, the platform hit a milestone — Utah became the 49th state to have a presence on HitchPin. All from the company’s headquarters in Kansas.
For more information on HitchPin, visit their website or contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about opportunities for private industry to co-locate or partner with K-State, please contact the Greater Manhattan Economic Partnership.