What does it mean when you hear that your food is being disrupted? Innovators and entrepreneurs often use the word “disruption” to connote their meaningful quest to bring new and better ideas to the marketplace. There is analysis underway to examine dozens of futuristic technologies and their impact on existing industries is finding that the agbiosciences is ripe for “disruption”. Consider that engineering, genetic, biological, and digital innovations are already embedded in the agbiosciences.  

To meet the demands of ever more discerning consumers of food, feed and fiber, agbioscience leaders are scrambling to win the innovation race to feed the world, protect the planet and improve lives. For Indiana to become nationally recognized state for food and agricultural innovation, we need to foster a more entrepreneurial, risk-taking culture in the agbiosciences akin to what has made Indiana an industry leader in the life sciences, advanced manufacturing and tech sectors.

Gradually, support systems are developing for industry specific activity and academic entrepreneurship programs which are available at our world renown universities such as Butler, Purdue, IU, Ball State, Notre Dame, and Rose Hulman, to name a few. However, these programs are often limited to the immediate proximity of their campus locations and few are focused on fostering innovation-driven new businesses in the agbiosciences. Agbioscience entrepreneurs often face other unique circumstances such as long research and development timelines and geographic distance between key players affecting idea sharing and leveraging.

Entrepreneurs also need investors. The states of California, Massachusetts and New York lead what AgFunder calls “agrifood tech” investment and collectively captured more than 70 percent of the funds in 2017. While Indiana is a top 10 state in agricultural production, we are well behind the leaders, and even neighboring states, in garnering critical investment funds for food and agricultural innovation. This reality begs the question: What does Indiana need to become a vibrant environment to nurture and grow agbiosciences entrepreneurship and become a recognized leader in the sector

To get to an answer, we first need a firm understanding of best practices to ignite an entrepreneurial spirit and fan the flame of innovation. AgriNovus Indiana is leading a comprehensive research study focused on this exact goal – providing the foremost atmosphere for entrepreneurial and innovation best practices in agbiosciences. This assessment will provide deeper understanding and ultimately assist our stakeholders (public officials, educational institutions, and other entities) that are strategically positioned to make the changes necessary to meet the goal. The study will provide a roadmap to achieve our goal and be widely shared and discussed with government officials, education leaders, and others who are in a position to develop and influence programs to address our challenges.

Despite the need for more work to support agbiosciences entrepreneurs, there are numerous cutting-edge start-ups taking shape here. One of those, Spensa Technologies which operates at the Purdue Research Park, develops industry-leading sensors and innovative technologies to help growers better manage agronomic pests such as insects, weeds and disease. Spensa recently signed an agreement to be acquired by DTN, an independent source of insight and analysis, and decision-support solutions to customers worldwide in agriculture.

AgriNovus and the Purdue Foundry are also teaming up for an Agbioscience Start-up Showcase to highlight several of our up-and-coming innovators. The Showcase will be held on April 10 at Launch Fishers and will feature conversations with Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness and Purdue University Chief Entrepreneurial Officer Dan Hasler. Five Indiana startup agbioscience companies will showcase their technology and tell their stories in 7-minute pitches. They are:

Jua Technologies – Professor Klein Ileleji, Ag & Biological Engineering; designing new tools for large scale drying of horticultural food crops using solar power.

Aggressively Organic – Jonathan Partlow, CEO; providing micro growth systems to grow local, fresh, healthy food on countertops, offices or be scaled to community urban farms.

ZeaVaxx – Fangji Lu, PhD Veterinary Medicine; producing nanoparticles derived from corn to make vaccines work better.

The Bee Corp – Ellie Symes, CEO; addressing a $2 Billion problem by tracking the health of beehives on a large scale.

VinSense – Dr. David Ebert, CEO; providing wine producers with software tools necessary to make higher quality wines.

Indiana makes things, grows things and move things better than any other state. Ambitious young minds are learning they can find purpose and work to solve some of our world’s biggest challenges in agbioscience careers. Let’s also offer these bright, innovative minds an exciting future as entrepreneurs and help them form and build their own technologies and businesses in Indiana. It’s happening here! 

Dan Dawes is senior director of strategy and innovation at AgriNovus Indiana.

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