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Women, IT and Mars: What to Expect from This Year’s Ag Innovation Showcase in St Louis

September 8, 2015

The St Louis-based Ag Innovation Showcase, one of agtech’s longest standing events, is in its seventh year and the event organizers are promising attendees their best year yet as registrants are already up 26 percent on last year.

Following a similar format to previous years, where keynote speeches are broken up by workshops and of course the all important company presentations, there is one key difference this year: four of the startups presenting are owned and run by women.

“It is really exciting,” Sam Fiorello, president of the Bio Research & Development Growth (BRDG) Park located on the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s campus where the event is being held, told AgFunderNews. “I am not sure if we’ve had more than two woman-owned companies present during the whole series. I hope this trends.”

The four startups presenting at Ag Innovation Showcase are:

Oakland, California-based Mango Materials, which produces biodegradable plastics from waste biogas (methane). All three of the company’s co-founders are women including Molly Morse, the chief executive.

Micronic Technologies, a Wise, Virginia-based water desalination and purification technology company that’s free of chemicals, filters and membranes. Karen Sorber is majority owner, chief executive officer and executive chair.

Stony Creek Colors, based in Nashville, Tennessee, is a manufacturer of bio-based dyes for the textile industry working with small farmers in the southeastern U.S. Sarah Bellos is the founder and chief executive.

Madison, Wisconsin-based Whole Trees Architecture & Structures, which converts timber waste into building products suitable for residential and commercial construction, was co-founded by Amelia Baxter who is also president of the company.

“There is a significant underrepresentation of women-owned companies in agtech, but we’re working to change that,” said Rohit Shukla, chief executive officer of Larta Institute, another co-organizer of Ag Innovation Showcase, in a statement.

The makeup of the companies presenting across the 3-day event has also changed over the years, according to Fiorello. There are 19 companies this year from Canada, India, Israel, Netherlands and the U.S., which were chosen by a committee from over 150 submissions. The number of submissions has increased each year along with the geographical diversity of the applicants. And while the applicants range across the agtech spectrum, Fiorello believes that the number of IT-focused startups presenting may have increased; “companies I never would have imagined seven years ago”, he added.

“Given that venture capital firms were unaccustomed to pure agriculture plays, they now have more comfort when startups look more like an IT play,” said Fiorello, pointing to the 311 percent increase in number of investors attending the showcase in 2014 compared to 2009. Granular, the farm management platform that recently raised $18.7 million in Series B funding, is one example of an IT-focused startup which presented at the event in 2011.

But biotech startups in the sector are still a key part of the showcase — 8 of this year’s 19 fall into this segment — and have been among some of the showcases’s biggest successes. A recent example is Benson Hill Biosystems, which presented in 2013 and just raised $7.3 million in Series A funding.

Heavy-hitting speakers to look out for include David Crean, global R&D staff officer at food giant Mars, Incorporated, who will be discussing sequencing the food supply chain with representatives from UC Davis and IBM.

A panel with Logan Jones, director of strategy and market development for Boeing Military Aircraft, which is within the Defense, Space & Security business unit of The Boeing Company, will also be one to watch. He will be discussing the growing use of satellite and aerial imagery for precision agriculture alongside Yield Lab, the local St Louis-based agtech accelerator, and AGERpoint a company operating in the space.

— Meet us at Ag Innovation Showcase! Michael Dean and Mike Betts will be there and are keen to connect with as many of you as possible! —


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

— Check for agriculture investment opportunities —

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