Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator selects 5 tech startups focused on sustainable food production
Back in March, we wrote about Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2), a $30 million technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation, when the organization announced $1 million grant awards to support 13 projects that address gaps in the development and commercialization of clean energy (cleantech) and agriculture technology (agtech).
Today, the foundation, which is co-administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, announced it has selected five early-stage companies for the program’s first “agtech” cohort. Each company participating in this invitation-only program will receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding and hands-on technical assistance to further develop and validate their technologies with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the world’s largest independent plant science institute.
Companies selected for participation in the program receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding from Wells Fargo, technical support and validation from experts at NREL and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and ongoing connections to organizations across value chain.
IN2 launched in 2014 with a focus on supporting scalable solutions that improve energy efficiency in commercial buildings. It expanded its charter in 2018 to advance the agriculture industry, which accounts for approximately 70% of the water and 14% of the energy usage worldwide. In expanding into agriculture, IN2 aims to speed the development and commercialization of technologies that help the agriculture sector overcome barriers and costs of implementing sustainable farming solutions.
To help guide the selection process for the first agtech cohort, IN2 commissioned a white paper entitled “IN2 Food, Energy, Water Landscape” to determine where its impact would be most beneficial. Portfolio companies selected for IN2’s first agtech cohort are advancing technologies that focus on sustainable crop production and yield.
The five startups include:
- Aker Technologies, Chicago, automated crop-scouting process that captures and analyzes the presence and intensity of pests and pathogens below the crop canopy.
- CoverCress, St. Louis, winter crop that covers soil during winter, protecting it from harsh conditions while producing a low-carbon intensity crop for renewable fuel and food.
- Intrinsyx Bio, Los Altos, Calif., plant probiotics that increase crop yield, reduce excess fertilizer and improve soil and water conditions.
- RNAIssance Ag, St. Louis, safe, effective and environmentally sustainable insecticide for precision pest management.
- SolGro, Arlington, Texas, nanoparticle film designed to increase crop productivity through light conversion on greenhouses.
With the addition of these five companies, IN2 brings its total portfolio count to 30 cleantech and agtech startups. Since joining the IN2 program, portfolio companies have raised $142 million from external follow-on funding — on average, more than $20 for every $1 awarded by IN2.
“Wells Fargo has a long history of working with farmers and companies throughout the agriculture value chain,” said Ramsay Huntley, Clean Technology and Innovation Philanthropy program officer for Wells Fargo. “This program expansion into agriculture aligns with our philanthropic mission to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy by supporting innovators and entrepreneurs focused on sustainable ideas that can shape the future of farming.”
Trish Cozart, IN2 program manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said, “We are very excited to be working with the Danforth center to test and validate our next cohort of companies. Looking at how our food, water and energy resources can be used more efficiently and effectively is a big part of the mission of this program. We look forward to working with these companies and the Danforth center in addressing that challenge.”
The partnership between the IN2 program and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center was announced at the annual Ag Innovation Showcase in fall 2018. The Danforth center will focus on the research and validation of the five companies’ innovative solutions that address how to use digital agriculture to produce food more sustainably.
“These five companies are driving innovation and new breakthroughs that will ultimately improve the way that we make food, distribute food, consume food and use resources,” said Sam Fiorello, chief operating officer at the Danforth center. “We are proud to be a strategic partner to help further develop and validate promising technologies to tackle these critical challenges.”
IN2 finds and selects companies through its Channel Partners, a curated network of incubators, accelerators and universities across the U.S. that refer startups to the program. Once referred, companies participate in a highly competitive application and selection process to determine which will be invited into the next cohort of participants.
Launched in 2014, the IN2 facilitates the commercialization and adoption of clean energy technologies. The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) is a $30 million technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation. Co-administered by and housed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, IN2’s mission is to speed the path to market for early-stage, clean-technology entrepreneurs. Launched in 2014 with an initial focus on supporting scalable solutions to reduce the energy impact of commercial buildings, IN2 expanded its focus in 2018 to advance technologies that address the interconnection of food, energy and water.