AgTech Accelerator Aims to Sway Agriculture Investment Trends

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in IT, if the technology has an agricultural application. But the accelerator could also work with new biotechnologies, such as gene-editing technology. He adds that some of the research into areas such as the microbiome require new digital tools, which means that there will be overlap between disciplines.

By nurturing connections with both universities and industry, Dombrosky says, AgTech Accelerator might even be able to spot ways that university research might fit with work already underway at its industry partners, Syngenta (NYSE: SYT) and Bayer. Those potential partnerships are not limited to technologies generated from agricultural research. While some of the universities were selected because of their prominence in agriculture research, Dombrosky says Purdue owes its inclusion to the strength of both its agriculture and engineering schools; engineering research from Purdue could find applications in agriculture. “We’re twisting disciplines that otherwise wouldn’t be twisted together,” he says.

Dombrosky describes himself as a finance guy who “fell in love with the idea of technology being in food.” He left Thomson Reuters in 2007 to join Syngenta, where he held executive and management positions for the Swiss agribusiness giant involving licensing, and mergers and acquisitions. While there, he says he noticed signs that agricultural innovation was following the same path that biopharma took 10 to 15 years ago, as new product candidates started coming from small startups rather than the internal R&D arms of the big ag players. In 2012, he started talking with Joel Marcus, CEO of Alexandria Real Estate Equities (NYSE: ARE), who saw the same trends. When Alexandria decided to move forward with AgTech Accelerator, Dombrosky was hired as CEO. Alexandria Ventures, the investment arm of the real estate investment trust, is the lead investor in the accelerator.

Working with Dombrosky is chief scientific officer Jeff Rosichan, a veteran of Dow AgroSciences. The accelerator also has a scientific advisory board that will work with companies in the accelerator. Dombrosky says that AgTech Accelerator already has a pipeline of companies awaiting investment decisions. Founders and universities will have equity stakes in the companies that are formed, and the companies will need to meet milestones, he says. If the accelerator works, agtech startups that graduate will be better positioned to raise larger sums of money, the way that startups in tech and biotech do.

Right now, AgTech Accelerator operates from Alexandria office and lab space in RTP. As the accelerator grows, Dombrosky says it will have the opportunity to become a part of the new agtech-focused development that Alexandria is planning in RTP.

AgTech Accelerator isn’t finished adding partners, from both industry and academia. Dombrosky expects that two more industry partners will be added by the end of the year, which in turn could boost the financial commitment to as much as $34 million. As the accelerator grows and adds companies in coming years, it will pursue additional rounds of investment support.

The accelerator plans to add as many as eight more university partners, particularly schools that have animal health expertise. But Dombrosky says the accelerator won’t grow beyond 15 university partners. The smaller academic partner pool will enable the accelerator to develop the deep, long-term relationships that Dombrosky says are necessary to identify and nurture technologies. Consequently, AgTech Accelerator will have the time to do advance work on business plans, intellectual property, and funding diligence.

“By the time they come in house, we’ve done all that work and more than would have been done in an incubator program,” Dombrosky says.

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