pork checkoff

Pork Checkoff Embraces Startup Innovation for First Time with New MidWest THRIVE Accelerator Program

The National Pork Board (NPB or the Pork Checkoff) is partnering with Californian venture firm SVG Partners on its new MidWest THRIVE accelerator program. The Pork Checkoff is partnering alongside animal health group Elanco, Indiana’s agbiosciences promoter AgriNovus, and entrepreneurship and commercialization accelerator Purdue Foundry. THRIVE’s existing partner on its Californian program Land O’Lakes is also part of the new program, which aims to focus on animal health startups and foster innovation in the MidWest.

Some of these partners will be investing in SVG Partners’ third fund.

This will be the first time NPB has dedicated resources to focus on new innovation, including the creation of a new job role internally, according to John Hartnett, partner at SVG Partners. NPB represents some 60,000 pork producers in the US.

“NPB made a strategic decision to embrace innovation and technology to improve their industry,” he told AgFunderNews. “For many years, NPB has been funding research in the area of animal health, and their relationship with THRIVE will open this library of research for potential commercialization.”

“Additionally, they recognize that new technology has the opportunity to solve challenges in their industry. Land O’Lakes and new partners like NPB and Elanco have driven our interest in this expansion into the animal health and livestock area,” Hartnett added.


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Farrowing notes at Iowa Select Farms – image credit Tyler Mertins, National Press Foundation

To-date there have been very few startup innovations directed at the pork industry. Intensive pig farming has many high-tech elements to it, but tasks such as record-keeping are mostly done with pen and paper. In 2017, Iowan agtech startup SwineTech raised $1.3 million in Series A funding for its wearable device for sows to prevent them crushing their piglets.

The wealth of farmtech entrepreneurs have also tended to focus on the cropping industries: in 2016, just $152 million of the total $1.4 billion raised by farm technology startups went towards businesses innovating specifically for animal agriculture, excluding seafood, according to AgFunder data.

With this expansion, THRIVE aims to develop a targeted pipeline of livestock management and animal health startups, validating and scaling new technologies for the livestock vertical.

It will also expand its support of emerging plant science and biotechnology startups, according to Hartnett.

“The new THRIVE vertical will focus on biotechnology in plant science and animal health as well as other technologies related to livestock management,” he said. “THRIVE has always had an interest in row crops and biotechnology with partners such as Land O’Lakes and Corteva. Our new partnership deepens these relationships and leverages additional interest and expertise inherent to the Indiana ecosystem.”

MidWest Partner Expertise

Based in Greenfield, Indiana, Elanco, a leading animal health company with its headquarters in Greenfield, Indiana, also joins the Midwest partnership. The company works to provide veterinarians, food producers, and pet owners with the tools needed to help animals live healthy lives. Elanco, which is based in Greenfield, Indiana is no stranger to the agtech startup ecosystem, leading an $8.5 million round in Research Triangle Park-based AgTech Accelerator’s early stage investment vehicle in 2016.

A THRIVE partner since 2016, major dairy cooperative Land O’Lakes has also been active in boosting entrepreneurship in agriculture, running its own dairy-focused accelerator program and hosting a drone competition in 2017.

Indiana State-backed initiative AgriNovus Indiana, which has focused on advancing the agbiosciences sector in the region, will help provide THRIVE with access to the Midwest’s agtech ecosystem.

“AgriNovus has built a great ecosystem in the Midwest with many similar partners to THRIVE. It very quickly became apparent that bringing our two ecosystems together was a synergistic opportunity. THRIVE has the expertise in venture investing and running a global accelerator and we are thrilled to partner with AgriNovus to bring additional depth to the program,” explained Hartnett.

Purdue Foundry will provide start-up support for the Midwestern THRIVE program, which is a startup accelerator that manages Purdue University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“The technologies coming out of the outstanding research in agriculture, veterinary medicine and across campus support a strong pipeline of technology commercialization and startup creation,” said Greg Deason, senior vice president of entrepreneurship and placemaking for Purdue Research Foundation, in a press release announcing the expansion. “We are excited by what THRIVE will bring to the Midwest in advancing the entire region’s growth in the agrosciences and agbiosciences.”

Existing THRIVE partners such as DowDuPont agriculture division Corteva, research and advisory firm EY, and GPS technology maker Trimble already have significant resources in the Midwest and will help to deepen THRIVE’s activity in row crop production agriculture activity there.

SVG Partners’ Californian THRIVE accelerator launched in 2014 with a particular focus on accelerating technologies relevant to the West Coast with early partners including Taylor Farms, Driscoll’s Berries, JV Smith and Western Growers Assocation. With the recent Forbes AgTech Summit in Indianapolis, SVG Partners recognized the opportunity to expand THRIVE into the Midwest in order to more readily address the geography’s robust livestock sector and biotechnology expertise.

Its Salinas-based accelerator program has run several cohorts of agtech startups covering a broad range of technology sectors. The eight-week program culminates in a classic demo day where judges select winners who are then featured at the Forbes AgTech Summit that takes place in the same region to highlight the ag and food-focused technology and entrepreneurship coming out of California’s fertile heartland. Since launching, the program has grown to attract applicants from around the globe.

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