California ag-tech accelerator laying down roots in fertile Midwest

Agricultural and ag-technology firms in Indiana and throughout the Midwest are about to get a major shot of fertilizer.

SVG Partners, a California-based venture and innovation firm, announced this week the expansion of its Thrive AgTech accelerator to the Midwest to focus on animal health and support agriculture advancements.

Thrive’s Midwest expansion was announced Thursday during AgriNovus’ fourth annual Agbioscience Innovation Summit held at the JW Marriott in downtown Indianapolis. 

SVG hasn’t yet decided where the new accelerator will be located or whether if it will be in Indianapolis. Those plans will be finalized in the coming months and announced in 2019, a source familiar with the project said. 

The ag-tech accelerator will work similarly to other accelerators by helping to give entrepreneurs, inventors and startups the mentoring and resources they need to grow and flourish. And, sources told IBJ, Indiana and Indiana companies and schools are certain to have a major role in the new accelerator.

The expanded accelerator comes on the heels of the Forbes AgTech Summit held in Indianapolis this fall. The collaboration, Thrive officials said, will build a bridge between Thrive Silicon Valley and the Midwest with new corporate partners including the National Pork Board, AgriNovus Indiana, long-term Thrive partner Land O’Lakes and with startup services from Purdue Foundry and collaboration opportunities with Purdue University.

Elanco, an animal-health company spun off from Eli Lilly and Co. that has its headquarters in Greenfield, also is joining the program. The company provides veterinarians, food producers and pet owners with the tools needed to help animals live healthy lives.   

“We believe programs such as Thrive can provide a valuable and complementary path for the development of next-generation technologies in animal health,” Elanco Executive Vice President Aaron Schacht said in a statement. 

Five years after launching in Salinas, California, Thrive continues to expand its platform, including the launch and growth of the THRIVE-X University challenge earlier this year, new investments, as well as the growth of its corporate open-innovation program with partners Wilbur-Ellis, Trimble, Taylor Farms, Wells Fargo, Land O’Lakes, Verizon and Coca-Cola.

Since the Thrive accelerator’s inception, SVG Partners has invested in 20 companies, which have cumulatively raised $100 million in seed and Series A funding with a total valuation of $500 million. Many of these companies—including Trace Genomics, MagGrow, and Arable—now reside in the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology in downtown Salinas.

The Thrive accelerator program has more than 1,500 startups in its global startup network and has graduated four classes. It also works directly with numerous farmers, SVG officials added.

In addition to all that, SVG earlier this year announced plans for a $50 million flex research-and-development and warehouse/distribution center—Thrive Business Park—to be built adjacent to the Salinas Municipal Airport.

With its Midwest expansion, Thrive aims to develop a pipeline of livestock-management and animal-health startups, validate and scale new technologies for the livestock industry and expand its support of emerging plant-science and biotechnology startups, SVG officials said.

“Monitoring animal health and preventing animal disease outbreaks is vital to our food supply chain,” SVG Partners founder and CEO John Hartnett said in a statement. “We look forward to leveraging our new partnerships with the National Pork Board and AgriNovus Indiana, as well as our existing partner Land O’Lakes to provide strategic and technical expertise and key resources to startup companies developing technologies for livestock producers.” 

SVG Partners launched the Thrive Accelerator in 2014. At the Forbes AgTech Summit, officials for SVG Partners said they recognized the opportunity to expand Thrive into the Midwest to more readily address the geography’s robust livestock sector and biotechnology expertise. 

“Working with new local partners in Indiana, we will be able to build on the success of our West Coast-based accelerator in order to deliver targeted technology to livestock farmers in the region and beyond,” Hartnett said. 

Existing Thrive partners such as Corteva Agriscience and Trimble already have significant resources in the Midwest and will help to deepen Thrive’s activity in row crop production agriculture here. Another partner, Purdue Foundry will help Thrive expansion in the Midwest by connecting university talent with Thrive’s network and resources.  

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