Indiana is done being modest. And global companies, top-tier publications and “places to watch” lists are taking notice. Indiana has made headlines as a rising tech hub and continues to be a place where national and global companies are establishing headquarters and business centers.
Beck’s Hybrid Farm Presentation during Forbes AgTech Indianapolis Summit 2019 (COURTESY OF VICTORIA ENGBLOM PHOTOGRAPHY)
Indiana has long been known as a leader in agriculture, with an abundance of natural resources and fertile land for livestock and farming. This foundational production strength combined with the surge of investment in agtech has made Indiana the ideal place for the next wave in agricultural innovation: agbioscience development. The term ag+bio+science, created by AgriNovus Indiana, captures the innovative spirit, tech assets and farming expertise unique to the state.
“There are a lot of different labels, names, or definitions out there for this space, including everything from agtech to food tech to agritech. We made our own—agbioscience—because it fits the competitive clusters and economic sectors that already exist here in Indiana,” said Beth Bechdol, president and CEO of AgriNovus Indiana, an organization dedicated to promoting and accelerating the growth of the agbioscience community in Indiana.
“Life sciences, advanced manufacturing and logistics, along with the emerging technologies that disrupt these industries, are also part of Indiana’s core economy,” Bechdol continues. “Throw in a tech ecosystem that is growing in the Indianapolis area and throughout the state, and the blend of these economic engines together is where the magic happens.”
Rather than operating as a consumer-facing entity, AgriNovus is focused on fostering relationships and innovation among industry players, including executives of other industries, innovators and other industry professionals. It partners closely with the state of Indiana, ensuring that the connection between industry and state leadership allows for smart economic development and a strong understanding of what it takes to support an ag vertical with major growth opportunities.
“Our job is to make sure Indiana has a growing, diversified economy that continues to create quality career opportunities, and we can do that by attracting new businesses or helping Indiana businesses expand their footprint,” said Elaine Bedel, president of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. “All of those are already happening in our ag space. The industry has almost a $32 billion impact on our state’s economy and half of that comes from the agbiosciences.”
The work of AgriNovus has earned national attention, with Forbes selecting Indiana for its first Midwest AgTech Summit in 2018 and again in 2019, which took place in September. AgriNovus also hosts the Agbioscience Innovation Summit, presented by Corteva Agriscience and Elanco on an annual basis, building upon the organization’s efforts to connect industry, innovators and academia.
AgriNovus also partnered with SVG Ventures and ForbesLive to launch the THRIVE Midwest Challenge, an accelerator program culminating in a pitch day competition for startups working on the latest innovations for ag biotech, livestock, and row crop producers. The program combines the accelerator environment seen on the east and west coasts and highlights dynamic talent, all of whom are attracted by the confluence of industry, academia and ideas found in Indiana. The traditional assumption of going to Silicon Valley or Boston to innovate is being expanded to include the heartland, as evidenced by the success AgriNovus has found in fostering a community that allows the next generation of ideas to flourish.
“Why can’t the Midwest and Silicon Valley or some of these other places for that matter bridge their assets? They’re very different assets. Some are emerging to be complementary in the tech space but when you think about access to really unique talent, the Midwest is a frontrunner,” Bechdol explains.
Midwestern Talent, International Appeal
To fuel the talent pipeline are leading research universities located in Indiana, such as Purdue University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, University of Notre Dame, and Indiana University, all of which have leading programs in agriculture, technology, informatics, engineering and life sciences. This combination of intellect and practical farm experience produces a unique breed of graduates ready to tackle the next generation of food production challenges. And companies from far outside of the state are embracing Indiana’s talented workforce.
The ecosystem that AgriNovus nurtured has crossed borders and oceans as international firms see the benefits of locating in, and partnering with, Indiana. A number of global corporations have already chosen to locate in the state, including Inari, an East Coast seed traits biotech firm; Solinftec, a Brazil-based leader in digital agriculture platforms; and, Italpollina, which brought its organic fertilizer production from Italy to Indiana.
These companies were recently profiled in AgFunder News about their decision to create a footprint in Indiana.
“It’s an obvious choice for us,” said Inari CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet. “We are serious about making a product for farmers and selling it through independent seed companies. We have to be in the right market for that and the farmers are in the Midwest. Also, we are able to get a lot of great talent, including the great support we’ve gotten from Purdue.”
Trivisvavet also finds value in the region’s ecosystem, benefiting from other industry professionals every time she visits the company’s Indiana office. “For me, I believe that the solution cannot be solved by us alone. The most critical thing in this world is solving the food system. It’s got to be a combination of everyone,” she adds.
Last year, Brazilian digital agriculture company Solinftec decided to establish its U.S. headquarters at the Purdue Research Park with plans to create hundreds of new jobs in the region and provide its technology solutions—which help farm operators increase their growing efficiency—to markets across North America. The company has also worked with leading Indiana farmer Kip Tom, testing its technology at Tom Farms.
“We’re extremely happy with Indiana farmers and the whole community. The governor, the state lawmakers, they have been very supportive, and I am pretty amazed at how much support we’ve had from Purdue, not only in terms of hiring but exposing us to all sorts of clients and players around the U.S.,” said Rodrigo lafelice dos Santos, the new CEO of Solinftec. “Beth Bechdol has been incredible; we love her!”
Organic fertilizer, biostimulant, and microbe-focused startup Italpollina has also found locating in Indiana to be beneficial for growth. “We are optimistic about our future in Indiana. The biostimulant industry is still in a nascent stage with a tremendous outlook,” said Luca Bonini, the company’s CEO and founder. “We have been fortunate to experience product success as a global pioneer of the segment and the North America market has been receptive to our technologies as well. Italpollina has more exciting innovation on the horizon, and our location in Indiana, which is bursting with high-tech ag companies, bio-ag research resources and skilled talent makes it a great place to pursue continued development.”
Work Here, Live Here, Love It
Beyond the exciting agbioscience ecosystem, Indiana has quality-of-life appeal for professionals who wish to retain their Midwestern roots while pursuing high-tech, high-wage careers. Indiana’s efforts to attract and embrace global business and foster international communities has translated into a welcoming environment for expats as well. Demonstrating the international appeal of the Midwestern state, Italpollina’s Bonini and his family decided to call Indiana home, enjoying the quality school systems, sensible cost of living, and abundant activities in the region.
As the agriculture sector continues to evolve to meet the need to provide nourishing food in a global market, AgriNovus is creating an environment in Indiana where the ag+bio+science concept is flourishing in a tangible way. The university talent pipeline feeds innovation, companies of all sizes are creating solutions to food challenges, and the dedicated employees who make these ideas real call Indiana home. The sector that nurtures Indiana’s economy is also what contributes to its reputation for hospitality, responsibility and a commitment to community.
“I think this next generation of rural students has a much stronger desire than maybe Gen X or even Millennials to stay close to home, but they need the opportunities,” Bechdol explains. “I still live in my hometown. I believe in the power and potential of rural communities. Some of our agbioscience stakeholders are not in ‘expected’ places like West Lafayette or Indianapolis. They’re scattered across the whole state in communities like Milford and Albion—places that aren’t always well-known to other Hoosiers.”
Indiana may not be where the conventional business community expects to see change, but the results speak for themselves: innovation lives here.