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Tennessee Announces Investment to Establish 100 Ag-Tech Businesses by 2020

September 03, 2015

Tennessee leaders hope to raise $10 million in public and private funding over the next five years to support an effort to attract 200 agricultural technology entrepreneurs and establish 100 ag-tech businesses by 2020. USDA Rural Development and the Tennessee Department of Agricultural recently announced they would seed that effort by contributing $220,000 to AgLaunch, a program to aid early-stage ag-tech companies. Memphis Bioworks Foundation will lead the initiatives, providing mentoring and programming opportunities for entrepreneurs. The program will begin in 2016.

The AgLaunch announcement is the latest milestone in Tennessee’s 10-year plan to expand production and economic prosperity in rural parts of the state. Gov. Bill Haslam originally called for ideas to bolster the state’s agricultural sector in 2012, leading to the December 2013 release of the Governor’s Rural Challenge: A 10-Year Strategic Plan, generated by a committee including the state Agriculture commissioner, the president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation and the chancellor of the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.

The report included four broad recommendations to increase rural Tennessee’s capacity to produce:

  • Advance agriculture, natural resources and rural infrastructure as Tennessee business priorities;
  • Ensure a positive and predictable regulatory and policy environment for Tennessee agriculture and natural resources;
  • Expand marketing opportunities for Tennessee producers and encourage new production systems and agribusiness; and,
  • Increase the scope and depth of a skilled and educated workforce through career, technical and higher education.

These recommendations, though focused on rural areas and agricultural industries, are similar to those designed to boost innovation in high-tech industries. Each of these points included several action items for future policies. Under the category of “expanding marketing opportunities,” the committee singled out the need to support innovation in the underserved agricultural sector and deliver assistance to entrepreneurs in the ag-tech sector.

Under the plan, state leaders were charged with supporting rural enterprise innovation through public-private partnerships and the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. Specifically, an initiative was to be launched that would address early-stage capital gaps, support an agricultural technology incubator network and provide entrepreneurial development and business acceleration.

AgLaunch is intended to take advantage of the upswing in investment in agriculture in the past few years. In the Tennessee Department of Agriculture press release, Bioworks President and Executive Director Steve Bares noted that venture capital investment in agriculture grew by 170 percent in 2014, with more gains expected in 2015.

Read the announcement at: http://www.tn.gov/agriculture/news/17149.

Tennesseerural, entrepreneurship