A hot topic of conversation in the agtech sector at the moment is the need to bring more agricultural science out of universities and into agtech startups. Earlier this month, the AgTech Accelerator launched with just that mission: to bridge the gap between universities, venture investors, and the agriculture industry.
Leading universities across the globe are also starting to make a concerted effort to help commercialize the technologies coming out of their institutions, and the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) is one of them.
Consistently ranked as the top US university for agriculture sciences, veterinary medicine, environment and ecology, UC Davis is a partner to a range of initiatives, including the AgTech Accelerator. Here are six more they’ve told us about.
“We think there are a lot of advantages to starting an agtech business in Yolo County and the greater Sacramento area,” said Julie Morris of UC Davis’ World Food Center. “Costs are much lower than living in the Bay Area, and you have a huge ability to connect to the local universities, particularly UC Davis which is so strong for agricultural sciences. There are also a growing number of agtech companies based here such as Marrone Bio Innovations, Arcadia Biosciences, BioConsortia, Agrinos and Bayer CropScience.”
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Recently completed for 2016, this year’s academy focused on ‘Reimagining the Future of Ag, Money and the Planet’. UC Davis’ Child Family Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship co-sponsored the academy with the World Food Center. The 3-day event combines lectures, practical exercises, and networking sessions with the aim of helping students, graduates, post-docs and faculty in science and engineering discover how their research could impact and be used commercially in the broader industry. It is also open to corporations and startups not related to the university, with recent participants traveling from Mexico and Nigeria to attend. The academy also hopes to bring scientists together to create “food chain clusters of innovation.”
A volunteer organization, Apps of Ag held its second hackathon at UC Davis, hosted by the World Food Center and the Innovation Institute for Food and Health at UC Davis. The hackathon was part of a series of events at the Food, Ag and Health Solutions Summit at the university. The winner was an app called Ag For Hire, which was first conceptualized at the December event. Ag for Hire is a mobile app offering a way for growers and farm workers to connect in order to help reduce the big labor shortage that’s being felt by many in the ag industry. While Apps for Ag hopes to run events across the country, founder Patrick Dosier is planning one during the State Fair in Sacramento to be sponsored by the University of California’s Ag & Natural Resources department.
From the hackathon, Ag for Hire used the services of UC Davis Venture Catalyst, a service developed for this purpose; to take its idea further and form a company. Venture Catalyst also provided legal services and, using its Smart Toolkit for Accelerated Research Translation, prepped the company to make the leap from university to real world application. Venture Catalyst, which is part of UC Davis’ Office of Research, also manages the Science Translation and Innovative Research (STAIR) Grant program, to fund and support translational science and innovative research from UC Davis researchers.
Ag for Hire now resides in the AgStart business incubator in Woodland, Yolo County’s largest city, and nine miles from UC Davis. AgStart was formed from a government grant and includes several UC Davis staff and graduates on its advisory board and mentorship network. AgStart, which launched six months ago, incubates agtech startups across the spectrum with a focus on making connections between companies and local farmers to encourage the testing of technologies on farmland.
Launched a year earlier than AgStart, the UC Davis joint venture with global seed producer H.M Clause, has an innovation center located in South Davis. It’s a 3,100 square foot facility equipped with biochemistry, molecular biology, and chemistry lab space, and also offers 1,800 square feet of greenhouse space. The facility is available to entrepreneurs looking to form new companies based on technology developed at the university. Lab space is leased by H.M Clause for six months up to 2 years. UC Davis Venture Catalyst supports the center. The startups currently in residence include Bio Mobile, which is developing a field-based testing system for fish species to combat mislabeling of sushi and seafood, and Inserogen, which is using tobacco plants to manufacture therapeutics.
Founded by Andy Hargadon, Anthony Costello, and Joe DiNunzio, Davis Roots is a non-profit start-up business incubator, with the shared goal of fostering the formation and early development of new high-growth ventures. Hargadon and DiNunzio both hold positions in UC Davis’ Graduate School of Management in addition to working with this local non-profit. Several current and former incubator companies in the ag sector were started by UC Davis alumni or faculty, including Foodful.ly, an app focused on reducing food waste, and SonanuTech, which is developing early warning contamination detection products for food production.
UC Davis’ World Food Center is also putting on an event later this month — Who’s Driving America’s Food & AgTech Innovation? — where you can meet AgFunder co-founder Melissa Tilney.
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