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How Oregon State is Supporting AgTech Start-Ups

July 20, 2015

Clean technology is a term that’s usually associated with the production of clean energy through solar panels or wind turbines and so on. But for the state of Oregon, the definition is much simpler; technologies that are good for the planet. And the state has been promoting this broad definition recently with a social media campaign #ThisIsCleanTech.

For Oregon, this extends into various agricultural applications and through its clean tech research facilitator and funding organization Oregon BEST, the state has invested $1.3 million in total to support the commercialisation of six agtech start-ups, two farm-to-market software start-ups and five biomass/biofuel or biochar technology start-ups.

Most recently Oregon BEST announced that it was investing $150,000 to fund research for TryEco, a Portland-headquartered start-up, which is producing drought defending biodegradable superabsorbent polymers (SAPs). Its trademarked AgriSorb SAP product has been developed specifically for agriculture, horticulture and forestry. It can hold 300 times its weight in water, releasing moisture back into the soil near the plant roots as the ground dries; a particularly relevant tool in the drought-stricken Pacific Northwest and California. And early research showed that AgriSorb could increase yields of vegetables such as pepper and tomatoes by 26 percent, while reducing irrigation.

Oregon BEST’s funding will be used for research at Oregon State University (OSU) where chemistry professor Vince Remcho will collaborate with TryEco and his students on the development and refinement of other SAP formulations.

Setting up and funding research collaborations between start-ups and universities is at the heart of what OregonBEST does.

“Without Oregon BEST, we would not have access to the level of cutting-edge equipment that Vince has in his lab,” said Nick Fowler, chief executive of TryEco is a statement. “This project characterizes exactly what Oregon BEST is all about: giving startups access to world class research facilities that just aren’t available to most startups in other states.”

OregonBEST also helps connect entrepreneurs with angel and venture capital investors in its network and provide any other help such as introductions to suitable accelerators and incubators. (Find a list of local accelerators and incubators here.)

The state of Oregon channels about $3 million into OregonBEST each year, which is spent on paying for researcher time or equipment across the organization’s nine shared labs.

Oregon BEST invests between $50,000 and $250,000 in each start-up and hopes to get a return through an eventual exit from any investee company; it changed its model from just issuing grants last year. Last year it awarded commercialization funding to Walking Point Farms to test and develop the use of biochar as a seed and soil amendment; to online farmers’ market Local Food Marketplace; and to Rogue Rovers, the start-up developing a semi-autonomous, all-terrain electric vehicle for specialty farming in orchards and vineyards.

It is hosting a clean tech innovation conference, Oregon BEST FEST, in September where university researchers, entrepreneurs, industry leaders and more will gather to accelerate solutions to environmental challenges. Agtech and precision farming were featured at last year’s event.

Find out more about what OregonBEST can offer here.


Have news, tips, or want to write a guest post? Email us at [email protected]

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