Seeding Solutions to Global Problems

By Lillie Mermoud

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology campus is always buzzing with activity. From scientists busy addressing the world’s most important questions to excited students experiencing genomics hands-on  to startup companies sharing space on HudsonAlpha’s campus to tackle major challenges in biotech, the Institute is alive with the drive to create and innovate.

Adding to the overall energy, five new startup companies joined the HudsonAlpha campus in April of this year. What sets these five businesses apart from the campus’s roster of biotech start-up tenants is that these companies are part of the HudsonAlpha AgTech Accelerator. Hosted by HudsonAlpha and administered by gener8tor, the AgTech Accelerator is a powerful initiative to grow entrepreneurship in the field of agricultural technology, or agtech, with the aim of helping companies solve some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

Sparking breakthroughs and fueling innovation

The program is a 12-week accelerator designed to inject funding, resources, and connections into startups in the agtech industry who are looking to take their business to the next level. The accelerator is organized into three cohorts of five companies, and each company receives $100,000 upon joining its cohort.

Drawing on HudsonAlpha’s experience in agriscience, specifically agriculture genomics, plant breeding, and crop diversity, and gener8tor’s extensive global and regional network, the accelerator provides life-changing opportunities to its participating companies. Participants receive intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, customers, corporate partners, and investors, which helps cohort members secure customers, accelerate their revenue growth, and attract additional funding.

The current AgTech Accelerator cohort is made up of Bloom Labs, a company specializing in recycled bio-plastics and textile fibers; Khepra, a low-cost and sustainable chemical manufacturing platform; OmniVis, a group working to eliminate dangerous food-borne illnesses using innovative technology; SAVRpak, a company fighting food waste by using technology to keep food fresher for longer; and Terra Bioforge, a synthetic biology platform for the rapid production and discovery of valuable bioactive natural products.

“The AgTech Accelerator has been like a shot of adrenaline for our company,” said David Mead, CEO at Terra Bioforge. “This program has introduced us to a number of mentors that have improved our business model, as well as potential investors that specialize in agtech, an area that is not well served for entrepreneurs currently.”

“With our science, the possibility to fight food waste at scale is real,” said Scott Nelson, President at SAVRpak. “To be able to partner with some leading minds and innovators in the Agtech Accelerator is an honor and another exciting step in our journey as a small company with a mighty mission.”

Boosting and diversifying a vital economy

Agriculture has a $70 billion economic impact on Alabama, and the state counts more than 44,000 farms across nearly 9 million acres of land. Over 600,000 Alabamians rely on the agricultural industry for their livelihood, either directly or indirectly. Because agriculture is central to Alabama’s economy, the AgTech Accelerator plays an important role beyond HudsonAlpha’s campus in bringing economic diversity and growth to the state.

The Growing Alabama Tax Credit program of the Alabama Department of Commerce supports the HudsonAlpha Agtech Accelerator, a testament to how critical the Accelerator is to Alabama’s economy.

A natural partnership

Launched as a way to give a leg up to agtech startups that are tackling globally significant challenges in food security, sustainability, and agriculture, the Accelerator empowers agtech entrepreneurs and innovators to bridge the gap between scientific breakthroughs and farmers and breeders.

HudsonAlpha was a natural partner for this initiative because of the Institute’s model for growing biotech startups on its own campus, side-by-side with its own scientific research labs. “What the AgTech Accelerator is doing is a smaller scale of what HudsonAlpha has already been doing,” said Abbie Ruesy, Economic Development Marketing Coordinator. “It links advances in scientific research with commercial innovation. Because of the important work the startups in the cohort are doing, it also goes hand-in-hand with the Institute’s mission to improve the human condition.”

gener8tor shares HudsonAlpha’s commitments to improving life around the world and sparking innovation and entrepreneurship. The Wisconsin-based global venture firm supports accelerators for start-ups across the nation, with a focus on building up tech and start-ups in underrepresented populations and smaller markets. gener8tor supports startups, founders, workers, employers, artists, and musicians across race, place and gender in more than 41 communities across 22 states and two countries, including 4 accelerator programs in Alabama.

“With the growing sustainability challenges our world faces, gener8tor saw a need for an agtech accelerator that would support entrepreneurs with the solutions to those challenges,” said Joseph Quan, Program Manager of the HudsonAlpha AgTech Accelerator. “Our partnership with HudsonAlpha has been crucial for connecting our founders with those in the Huntsville community capable of supporting them and making their visions a reality.”

Meet the start-ups

This second cohort is nearing the end of its time in the HudsonAlpha AgTech Accelerator. The cohort began in April and wraps up at the end of June. The Accelerator will close out with a program showcasing all that the five startups in the cohort have accomplished over the last twelve weeks. This showcase also serves as a pitch session where each startup will have an opportunity to present their company to potential investors and partners.

The showcase will take place on Thursday, June 22, at 5:30 p.m. in the Saturn V Hall at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Registration is free and open to the public. Register here.