International startup accelerator Techstars announced today that it is launching a new ag tech accelerator in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. Called the Farm-to-Fork Accelerator, the program will be managed by Brett Brohl, previously an entrepreneur in resident at Techstar’s Retail Accelerator, also based in Minnesota. Cargill and Ecolab, some of the largest players in the ag tech and food safety fields respectively, will partner with Techstars to run the program and offer mentorship to the selected companies.
According to a blog post, applications for the program will open on January 8, with the 13-week program slated to begin in the third quarter of 2018. Techstars is looking to accept 10 startups that have ideas on how to innovate upon a variety of processes in the food value chain, from food safety to waste reduction to traceability.
“There are immense challenges and opportunities in food and ag tech, and yet it is the least digitized sector in the world,” Brohl said in an emailed statement to VentureBeat. “The largest looming question is: how do we safely and sustainably feed the world’s growing population in 30 years?”
“We see the partnership with Techstars as a way to inject startup energy inside Cargill, where we are committed to creating a culture that fosters technology innovation through internal expertise and external partnerships,” Justin Kershaw, Cargill’s CIO, said in a press release.
Minnesota is the state with the fifth-largest agriculture sector by cash receipt,according to the USDA. But, larger states like California, New York, and Massachusetts still have the biggest strongholds on ag tech startup funding. Techstars hopes that its accelerator program changes that.
“While perhaps less-publicized, there is a thriving food and agriculture ecosystem in the Twin Cities,” Brohl said via email. According to Brohl, nearly 100,000 people are employed in the Twin Cities in the food and agriculture sectors, and pointed to the University of Minnesota, one of the largest land-grant universities in the country, as one of the area’s unique strengths.
Techstars, which now runs 37 accelerator programs around the world according to its website, ran its first class in Boulder, Colorado in 2007. The program became instrumental in creating a density of startups in Boulder, which in 2013 was home to the highest density of tech startups in any metro area. Techstars took their program national in 2009 and international in 2013.
Many of Techstar’s newest accelerator programs are located in second- and third-tier startup markets in the U.S., like Kansas City, Detroit, and Atlanta. Like the Farm-to-Fork Accelerator, many of them rely on corporate partners to create a program tailored to entrepreneurs in a specific industry. Techstars’ Mobility Accelerator in Detroit receives support from Ford, for example, while its Retail Accelerator is managed in partnership with Target.