Arkansas Startups: Grainster

Layne Fortenberry of Grainster

Layne Fortenberry

Layne Fortenberry pondered an idea for about seven years before he turned it into a startup, Grainster Inc.

Grainster, which is expected to launch a beta test in select global markets in about nine months, was recently named the USA Global Winner Best Idea in the Talent Unleashed Awards during a ceremony in Melbourne, Australia.

Fortenberry’s family started a rice mill in Stuttgart in 1999, and he went to work for them, buying rice from farmers.

“I could see from the farmer, that even to our local rice mill, they thought they had to go through a broker, which absolutely is not true,” he says. “We would mill the rice, and another part of my job was to sell the finished product. On that side, we never sold to the end user. It was very rare if we did. It was broker after broker after broker. That’s kind of how it all came about.”

Fortenberry originally thought the answer was an auction site.

“I did a lot of research on that side and kind of figured out that wasn’t where farmers wanted to be – they associated auctions with too much risk. I see that now myself as well,” he says. “But so then we basically had to go back to the drawing board and come up with what I call the negotiation model that we have now and the true trade platform.”

Fortenberry recently stepped down as CEO of Grainster, naming Roger Cunningham as his successor.

“I consider myself an idea guy, an innovative guy, so it’s good for me to step out of that role and it helps me to innovate more and not be so tied down to the day-to-day. We will have a labs division down the road and things like that… I’m excited to innovate more.

His wife, Crissy, grew up on a farm and is heavily involved in the company as a majority shareholder, Fortenberry says. They have three daughters – Lilly, 14, Gabbi, 11, and Charlie Love, 3.

Grainster currently allows customers to buy, sell, negotiate and trade online for grains – rice, soybeans, wheat and corn – but Fortenberry hopes to expand those offerings.

“We’ll have the ability to trade any commodity that there is – coffee beans, bananas, even water is becoming a more tradable commodity,” he says. “We will start off with the four major grains and get our proof of concept and the system down and the betas over with before we even think about going into other commodities, before we spread out like that.”

Fortenberry expects Grainster to begin operating globally soon.

“There are partners that we’ve made around the world who are sitting and waiting until we’re ready for them. It will all start out as beta areas that we want to come from and to, to prove our concept and once betas prove then we’ll fully start to roll those out from different countries, to different countries as we go. Those other global partners will come into play down the road. We’ve made quite a few partnerships like that, really all over the world. So we’re excited. We’re sitting on go and ready to finish building this thing.”

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