AgLaunch secures $220,000 in seed funding for bold new program

AgLaunchBy Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

In a crowded room on the second floor of an office building on the Town Square in Ripley, participants yesterday celebrated the official kick-off of an initiative designed to bring more technology-based jobs to rural communities like the one that hosted the event.

AgLaunch, as the effort is known, will benefit from $220,000 in seed funding coming from the Tennessee Department of Agriculture ($75,000 a year for two years) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture ($70,000).

With that funding, “the game is on,” as the saying goes. The overall goal is to raise $10 million to attract 200 entrepreneurs and 100 “successful and investable agricultural sector companies in Tennessee by 2020.”

The program builds on several years of planning on the state’s part to jumpstart the rural economy. We reported in a November post on efforts to bring to life the innovation component of “Governor Haslam’s Rural Challenge: A 10-Year Strategic Plan.”

“This is the next step in the AgLaunch program,” Pete Nelson, a Consultant to the Memphis Bioworks Foundation, said at the beginning of Thursday’s announcement. He also serves as Chief Executive Officer of Ag Innovation Development Group.

Bioworks is leading the effort, working closely with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) and its sister organization – the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

The University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture (UTIA) is also playing a key role.

“Our mission is to develop new knowledge and disseminate,” Bill Brown, UTIA’s Dean of Research, told the attendees. “We take very seriously the role of UT being an economic driver for the state.”

In fact, we reported in June that Brown had hired well-known entrepreneur Joy Fisher to help spur more start-ups created around UTIA inventions. On Thursday, he reiterated that commitment.

“We are very interested in technology development with new companies,” Brown said.

The composition of the crowded room – federal, state and local officials as well as business owners, farmers and a number of entrepreneurs – underscored a key point that Julius Johnson, Commissioner of Agriculture, stressed in his remarks. AgLaunch is a partnership that leverages federal and state resources to launch something he described as a bold and ambitious program.

“With these dollars, we hope to incentivize private investment,” Johnson said. If everything goes as planned, Tennessee will become a hub of agri-tech innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ripley is located in the Eighth Congressional District that Congressman Stephen Fincher represents. Symbolically, he is also a farmer.

“If we are going to be able to feed the world, we are going to have to invest in technology,” the Congressman said. “It’s a good thing to put money into things that are going to return an investment to society.”

Click here to read the official TDA announcement.

Tom Ballard

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer,
Pershing Yoakley & Associates. P.C.

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