Danforth Center Receives $1.5M Grant To Support Its Center For AgTech

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Source: Donald Danforth Plant Science Center news release

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has won a $1.5 million competitive Build to Scale grant from the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration (EDA) to support the Center for AgTech and Applied Location Science and Technology (CATALST).

The project aims to capitalize on the demand for new precision agriculture technologies by tapping into the St. Louis region’s expertise in agtech and location science to fuel innovation and entrepreneurship and to advance commercialization. The Danforth Center is partnering with BioSTL and T-REX to implement the CATALST strategic initiatives.

“Intentionally pairing the region’s emerging location science cluster with our globally recognized agtech cluster provides a perfect combination to scale innovation-based entrepreneurship that will stimulate new company growth and the commercialization of new technologies that will create jobs for a broad and diverse population,” said Stephanie Regagnon, executive director of Innovation Partnerships at the Danforth Center. “This provides St. Louis with a distinct competitive advantage to take a leadership role in the fourth industrial revolution and strengthen our economic competitiveness for future generations.”

Funds will support proof-of-concept field research partnerships between Danforth Center scientists and early-stage companies to validate and de-risk their agriculture technology applications, such as remote imaging and sensing, smart devices and predictive data analytics, powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning.

The Danforth Center and BioSTL’s existing proof-of-concept apparatus will be scaled to provide validation of technology readiness, and access to the expertise and training necessary to prepare entrepreneurs to successfully seek funding from nondilutive sources. BioSTL also will provide innovators/startups with access to growers/producers as pilot customers by linking innovators with pilot field sites to test their technology and secure customer feedback/connections through its Early Adopter Grower Innovation Community (EAGIC).

Access to highly skilled, affordable talent is critical to growing any innovation ecosystem. Through BioSTL’s Career Fund, CATALST will provide paid internships at early-stage startups, enabling a diverse cohort of early-career researchers, which is essential for continued advancement of R&D.

“CATALST allows BioSTL to scale up proven programs that help startups fill gaps and meet challenges,” said Justin Raymundo, manager of regional workforce strategy at BioSTL. “This includes the essential talent needed at the research bench to advance R&D from proof-of-concept to commercialization and the critical connections between startup companies and early-adopter farmers willing to test or purchase a new product. It’s a win for startup companies, and it’s a win for developing and growing St. Louis’ talent pool.”

The Danforth Center will also host a series of workshops on foundational and cutting-edge techniques in data science, bioinformatics, statistical analysis, data visualization, other computational techniques location/data science for entrepreneurs across career stages, to strengthen data analytic capacity of talent to fuel startups as they grow in the region.

In partnership with T-REX, the CATALST will offer virtual and in-person events that will heighten awareness and engagement between geospatial and agriculture experts and will demonstrate St. Louis’s leadership in both areas. Topics will address issues pertinent to the geospatial industry including geospatial developments, career planning, and working with big government, to technical focus areas such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), Augmented Reality/ Virtual Reality (AR/VR), and Geomatics. Support from the CATALST will enable T-REX to expand its Geo-Seed Grant program to designate a portion of funding for projects focused on the intersection of geospatial technologies and sustainable agriculture.

“We are excited to leverage our existing geospatial resources, including our Geospatial Innovation Center, our network of experts and corporate partners, and our new EDA-funded Extended Reality Lab and associated Extended Reality Consortium to support the CATALST,” said Dr. Patricia Hagen, T-REX president and executive director. “Expanding these resources into the agtech space will create opportunities for exponential economic growth that will serve the entire St. Louis region.”

The Danforth Center, BioSTL and T-REX are unique in their combined ability to converge stakeholders across academia, business, government and nonprofit sectors and have continued to expand access to infrastructure resources that help attract scientific and startup talent.

These programs have created new mechanisms for building an innovation economy by de-risking technology and supporting entrepreneurs as they shape and grow their businesses, helping to launch a stream of new, viable startup companies providing high-paying jobs. All three organizations are committed to fostering an inclusive and equitable innovation economy that benefits all of the region’s diverse community members.

“We believe that inclusive and equitable talent development and deployment systems, entrepreneurial supports, and management processes are vital for economic growth and regional competitiveness, especially for scaling commercial ventures,” said Regagnon. “Diverse and inclusive organizations are more innovative, more profitable and financially resilient.”