Agricultural technology startups received a huge boost Thursday with the formal launch of the AgTech Accelerator in RTP. From funding to space to advisory services, entrepreneurs can draw on a variety of resources to launch and grow new companies, says the Accelerator’s CEO in the first of a multi-part interview.

“RTP is the epicenter for all things AgTech,” declared John Dombrosky, a former Syngenta executive.

The center plans to offer much more than funding, aiming to help launch companies that perhaps might never have been planted, so to speak.

“Agriculture has historically lagged behind other industries in fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem,” he explained. “Our unique model fosters a ‘new entrepreneurialism in agriculture,’ enabling new startups to fill a wide variety of important AgTech innovation gaps.”

Long known as a growing hub for biotechnology and plant science with huge companies such as Syngenta and Bayer (investors) as well as numerous others, emerging companies and investors that are backing the accelerator (Alexandria, which is developing a biotech-focused campus and has a long-term strategic plan to grow its presence across RTP, as well as local venture firms Pappas and Hatteras), AgTech aims to help aspiring ventures succeed.

While AgTech Accelerator announced $11.5 million funding, Dombrosky said the aim os raise as much as $30 million.

Our Q&A begins with questions about the strengths of RTP as a hub for agbio, the needs he belies the AgBio Accelerator will provide, and why such an accelerator is needed.

What makes the Triangle such fertile ground, so to speak, for such a venture?

RTP is the epicenter for all things AgTech.

It is the ideal location for new agribusinesses to be formed for many reasons:

  • RTP is at the intersection of the AgTech and life science sectors and has the largest talent pool in the country in AgTech (concentration of major universities, 3 of the major Ag companies, many science and technology focused companies in RTP)
  • Unparalleled access – Not only does RTP have an amazing set of assets and resources available, but North Carolina is one of the most diversified agriculture states in the nation and ranks seventh nationally in farm profits with a net farm income of over $3.3 billion.

What are the critical needs you see as the Accelerator providing beyond funding?

We have built-in strategic investors.

  • Strategic investors and partners, like Bayer and Syngenta, coupled with our constellation of venture firms bring a unique and highly sophisticated and diverse level of know-how, experience and expertise
  • As fledgling companies grow under AgTech Accelerator’s operating model, the investor syndicate will provide follow-on investment capital and access to world-class governance, strategic, business and individual management expertise

Our companies will have scientific and business credibility and know-how through top-tier, world-renowned AgTech partners and advisors

  • Long-term mindset and strategic formation of agribusiness partners Bayer/Syngenta but internal DNA of VCs that know how to build successful businesses
  • Ongoing access to seven of the top academic research partners
  • By leveraging the institutions’ broad and deep expertise in developing basic science, engineering, life science and agricultural innovations, AgTech Accelerator companies will access and integrate new technologies, research, incubation and product development capabilities
  • We have assembled a leadership team, board of directors and external scientific advisory board composed of diverse and versatile industry stakeholders with deep experience in entrepreneurship, technical expertise, company-building acumen and longstanding AgTech relationships

We provide flexible access to resources in RTP

  • Through our partnership with investor Alexandria Real Estate, the leading real estate investment trust (REIT) uniquely focused on world-class collaborative science and technology campuses in innovation clusters,
  • Alexandria will provide startups ‘just-in-time’ access to more than one million square feet of high-quality office, lab and greenhouse space in RTP, enabling them to focus on their core scientific and technological competencies and capabilities.

Why is AgTech Accelerator needed? We hear all about tech accelerators quite often. This agtech approach seems to be one that’s long been needed.

Investing in AgTech takes specialized resourced. Businesses that serve the agriculture industry must convert increasingly complex and integrated early-stage technology into differentiated solutions and products:

  • It is really difficult for global agribusinesses to do it all in-house and R&D timelines are compressing. This necessitates new external innovation and collaboration models
  • Bridging a technology into a useful field product is difficult. In academia, nascent technologies at the university level require specific resources to translate well into commercial use. We are filling that gap, allowing technology founders to focus on advancing the promising science.
  • Agriculture has historically lagged behind other industries in fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our unique model fosters a ‘new entrepreneurialism in agriculture,’ enabling new startups to fill a wide variety of important AgTech innovation gaps
  • We are creating companies that likely wouldn’t have been formed without the AgTech Accelerator.

We are not just giving these companies a start, we are giving them the critical resources and know-how to support their lifetime. The hands-on, capital-efficient philosophy that AgTech Accelerator employs will shepherd and support companies that can sustainably improve agricultural productivity:

  • Hands-on, single management team
  • Access to resources just in time: Flexible access to Alexandria’s RTP footprint of ~ one million square feet of labs, greenhouses, offices when companies need it. Saves companies time and money and frees them to do their core work.
  • Scientific and business mentorship: Engaged board with strategic long range technology insight and venture business building acumen.
  • Built-in investors: Consortium of investors that gives our companies opportunities to be successful and exit more quickly

Part Two of Q&A: What AgTech Accelerator is offering