For the new CEO of AgriNovus Indiana, the role is a perfect culmination of his storied career in public service, technology, and agriculture.
“This opportunity allowed me to stitch together the experience I have in agriculture and tech. I have long said that Indiana needs to be the place where we bring together tech and agriculture to fuel economic growth,” Mitch Frazier, the newly appointed president and CEO of AgriNovus Indiana, tells AFN. “I get goosebumps talking about it now because I am so passionate about it. My true passion is public service.”
AgriNovus is an Indiana state initiative dedicated to promoting and accelerating the growth of the agbioscience community in the region. It’s part of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), which is an effort dedicated to the region’s continued growth. The chief innovation officer for the Indiana Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) also serves as an AgriNovus board member. As part of its founding guidelines and mission statement, AgriNovus focuses on cultivating relationships and innovation among industry players including executives of other industries, innovators, and other industry professionals as opposed to operating as a consumer-facing entity.
Frazier has taken the helm of AgriNovus following Beth Bechdol’s departure for a position as deputy director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) for the United Nations in Rome, Italy during December 2019.
“I have an opportunity to bring the lessons learned and focus on innovation, whether its connecting people and organizations or talent development or supporting entrepreneurs, as a few examples,” Bechdol says. “I’m convinced that so much of the work we’ve done in Indiana and the lessons we’ve learned from the AgriNovus playbook will transfer to other parts of the world and a global stage.”
At AgriNovus, Bechdol got a taste of how to unite different players toward a common goal while raising awareness for a region that most people didn’t immediately associate with cutting-edge innovation. Much of her laboring oar at AgriNovus involved bringing people together who aren’t normally in the same room, she says, and uniting them through common goals. She plans to take this “big tent” approach to Rome when it comes to broadening the agency’s approach to innovation in food and agriculture.
Of course, leaving AgriNovus behind is bittersweet. Bechdol has been instrumental in building the organization’s presence locally and beyond since taking the helm as President and CEO in 2015. But for AgriNovus’ future CEO, Bechdol sees an exciting future ahead.
“Maybe it’s a broader focus on the Midwest, building some National Center of Excellence around digital ag, some cool part of agtech that is unique to Indiana or the Midwest, or mapping out the next exciting growth opportunities,” she says. “What I feel good about is the next leader coming in with a really great foundation, a lot of momentum, and committed partners who aren’t going anywhere. They all believe in the work that’s being done and want to see it continue to grow.”
Like Bechdol, Frazier brings a contagious amount of enthusiasm and tenacity to AgriNovus’ mission of uniting sectors within the state and building bridges that haven’t existed previously. In partnership with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, one of the organization’s biggest goals for the state has been to build a bridge between Silicon Valley and the Midwest, for example.
Frazier served as the CEO of regional John Deere retailer Reynolds Farm Equipment before taking the new role. Prior to Reynolds, he served as vice president of Marketing at TinderBox and as vice president of Marketing and Investor Relations Officer at ExactTarget. He led media relations for Governor Mitch Daniels’ team at the Indiana Economic Development Corporation and served as a civilian public affairs officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He also served on active duty in the U.S. Army.
During his first 60 days, Frazier is focused on understanding AgriNovus’ assets and relationships throughout the state and at large. He also plans to brush up on the agbioscience sector, which until now has not been the primary focus of his work. For now, he sees two main goals for the organization.
“There are two things that will really guide our strategy. First is economic development and this goes into workforce training development programs and being intentional about how we fuel the economy such as linking companies across the state or around the world. How do we fuel companies in the state while attracting talent?” he explains. “The second is innovation acceleration particularly when it comes to helping farmers with net farm income.”
Although he didn’t grow up on a farm, Frazier understands the main concerns on farmers’ minds. Chief among them is net income. With depressed prices, a global pandemic, and unpredictable market conditions, finances are becoming an even bigger concern for many producers.
“AgriNovus and IEDC have hosted the Forbes AgTech Summit here and during a panel discussion among farmers the thought came up about how agtech needs to be about net farm income not neat or novel tools or graphs or intel. That’s helpful but we have to show the value of agtech from an income standpoint. That’s hard,” he explains. “Farmers are busier than ever and have little time to dedicate to go through a tech evaluation process. We have to understand as a community how do we bring them innovation that solves real problems and creates long-term growth.”
As far as the challenges that lie ahead, Frazier is fully expecting to encounter scenarios when not everyone in the room will agree. Bringing together so many segments of the state and broader agriculture, bioscience, and tech ecosystems is a lofty task after all. The fuel behind Frazier’s contagious excitement comes back to the very heart of what AgriNovus is all about: Hoosier pride.
“Ag is in our DNA. We have an amazing group of producers, academics, scientists, and people who are wildly passionate about their profession and what they can offer the broader ecosystem.”