Support for AgTech startups is picking up pace globally from accelerators in India and St Louis, to research funding in Oregon and Colorado. And from October, AgTech entrepreneurs in California will have a new hub to join as Western Growers (WGA), the member association for west coast fruit, vegetable and permanent crop farmers, is opening its Salinas-based Center for Innovation & Technology.
“The entire initiative is really born out of our leadership in the agri community,” Hank Giclas, senior vice president, strategic planning, science & technology at WGA told AgFunderNews. “We saw a need to accelerate the availability of technology to address key industry-wide problems and focus those technologies on those particular issues in a way that brings something useful to the agri community.”
The center, which is aiming to house between 30 and 35 ventures for $500 a month per workstation, will host a variety of in-house events and seminars to help tenant startups advance their technologies and businesses and meet WGA’s grower members. Involving external speakers and input from members, the program will aim to give startups market intelligence, teach them how to how to write a market plan, how to protect intellectual property, how to pitch and so on. The center will also organize external events to build engagement with non-tenant startups and agribusinesses.
“The center is intended to be a hub for the entire innovation effort so we will have a lot of seminars for members and the public to talk about what’s coming in terms of new tech and innovation. This will also provide opportunities to showcase new technologies and meet and greet others in the sector,” said Giclas.
WGA also hopes that likeminded entrepreneurs will connect and potentially work together, added Tom Nassif, president and chief executive. “It will be good to find some tenants that can cross-pollinate to build strong applications to serve the industry,” he said.
“From a Western Growers standpoint we are carving out a leadership role at the request of our members,” added Nassif. “Salinas is a great place to start that and there is already a lot of traction there already so this is part of a large effort to create a hub of the entire initiative.”
“Basing this center in Salinas, right in the heart of the salad bowl, is very unique,” he added. “We are bringing startups right next to the customer, not the money, and that really differentiates our center from others.”
To this end, Western Growers entered into a strategic alliance with Silicon Valley Global Partners (SVG Partners) in April. That alliance involves working together on SVG Partners’ Thrive accelerator program and supporting each others’ innovation centers; SVG’s is in San Jose. They were both sponsors of Forbes’ Reinventing America: The AgTech Summit in Salinas in July and WGA is a strategic investor in the SVG Technology Growth Fund II, which is targeting around $100 million overall and could invest into the center’s tenants. In addition to a financial contribution, WGA will help secure industry investors to the fund and mentor companies who are selected by the investment group.
The center’s grand opening is slated for October 1, before which the association is seeking tenants. It is also looking for sponsors to help keep costs for startups low and create a sustainable system. This is a not-for-profit initiative for Western Growers, which the organization has funded itself, according to Nassif and Giclas.
“While of course it would be nice to make a profit, that’s not our driving motivation,” said Nassif. “The aim is to increase the competitiveness and profitability of our members. If we can provide a venue that is going to help provide our members with technology they might not otherwise have access to, that’s a huge success for us.”
“Our bottom line is: we’re focused on finding things that help growers, especially in the crop industry,” said Giclas.
Startups that are interested in becoming tenants should get in touch with Hank Giclas. His contact details can be found here.
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