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Ag Innovation Showcase marks 10th anniversary

The Ag Innovation Showcase launched by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in 2009 has helped put St. Louis on the map as an ag tech hub for scientists, entrepreneurs and investors.
Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
The Ag Innovation Showcase launched by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in 2009 has helped put St. Louis on the map as an ag tech hub for scientists, entrepreneurs and investors.

More than 400 researchers, entrepreneurs and investors are expected to attend Ag Innovation Showcase this week, the 10th year it’s been hosted by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

The three-day event has been described as part research conference, part Shark Tank competition, where startups pitch the latest technology to improve crop yields that are safe for farmers, consumers and the environment.

The first Ag Innovation Showcase, held in 2009, attracted researchers and entrepreneurs, mostly from the U.S.

Sharon Berberich presented one of the first genome editing technologies for Dow AgroSciences at the inaugural Showcase. She has been involved in the Showcase as an organizer, presenter, judge and entrepreneur.

“I've worked with three different companies and the Innovation Showcase has always been what I look forward to every September,” Berberich said. “It has gotten bigger and it's gotten better, and more international.”

This year she’s back as CEO of  St. Louis-based Plastomics, which launced in 2016. She will have five minutes to pitch her plant biotechnology company to investors and scientists.

Plastomics is developing a way to improve crops by using the chloroplast of plants, where photosynthesis occurs with genomic technology.

“Agricultural technology over the last 10 years has expanded dramatically,” Berberich explained. “I mean it's impacting the entire food chain from farmer to consumer. And so the showcase has kept up with the technology development and has really presented those pressing and current issues every year.”

Seven years ago, NewLeaf Symbiotics was a startup in the Ag Innovation Showcase shark tank.

“We had no money and we had a bunch of ideas,” said CEO Tom Laurita. “The Ag Showcase gave us an opportunity and a platform to present what we were doing.”

Since then NewLeaf Symbiotics has raised three rounds of venture capital including a $30 million raise in 2017. This year, the company introduced its first products to the market in the Midwest and in the southeast.

The startup is involved in a new and growing area of developing applications for beneficial plant bacteria or microbes.

"These microbes live on plants naturally,” Laurita said. “ We collect them, study them, understand their effect and make products that are natural and used in all areas of farming.”

NewLeaf Symbiotics is one of more than 150 other Showcase alumni companies that have raised a total of $1.1 billion since presenting at the conference.

Berberich said the Showcase is one of the best opportunities a startup company can get.

“Not only to present, but just to attend because of the people that come. You have strategics, you have investors, you have people that are developing technology that might help your company. And deals do get done.”

The 10th annual Ag Innovation Showcase runs through Wednesday at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Creve Coeur.

Additional sponsors include: Larta Institute, Bio Research & Development Growth Park.

Ag Innovation Showcase facts and figures since 2009:

  • $1.1 billion in funding raised by presenting companies
  • 89 percent found investor leads
  • 94 percent introduced to partnership opportunities
  • 186 industry vetted, early stage technologies showcased
  • 6 companies acquired

Areas of innovation showcased:

  • Inputs and diagnostics to assess the health of and enhance soils, crops and animals.
  • Environmentally sustainable non-edible biobased products.
  • Sensors, software, data science, artificial intelligence and automation to digitize farm operations for higher productivity and profitability while reducing environmental impacts.
  • Post-harvest technologies to further innovate the food value chain.
  • Food production that goes beyond traditional plant crops and animals, harnessing other living organisms.

Follow Melody on Twitter: @melodybird

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Long-time public radio listeners may remember hearing Melody Walker sign off from Paris in the 1980’s where she covered arts, politics, gastronomy, exiled dictators, and terrorist attacks for six years. She returned to WNYC (where she had her first job as a reporter while a student at Barnard College) and became producer of theLeonard Lopate Showand a newsroom reporter. Soon afterMarketplacelaunched, Melody was tapped to run the business show’s New York Bureau. She continued to work forMarketplaceas a freelancer in Chicago and contributed to WBEZ community coverage before another stint in Paris just in time to report on the Euro’s debut and the French reaction to the events of 9/11.