Published On: 06/20/2024Categories: Agbiosciences, Industry News

Bioplastics plant startup receives inaugural “Be A First” award at groundbreaking

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Nichole Like, The Pantheon’s CEO, joined city and state officials and a crowd of 200+ people today for AgroRenew’s Groundbreaking Ceremony marking the start of construction on the world’s first purpose-built melon-to-plastic manufacturing plant. Alongside Pantheon co-workers, Like presented the “Be A First” award to AgroRenew Founders Brian and Katie Southern, who are also members of The Pantheon, where their idea took root and flourished with partner connections and local support in early 2023.

The Pantheon’s “Be A First” award celebrates startups that launch from The Pantheon and invest in the growth of our community. AgroRenew is the award’s inaugural recipient.

“AgroRenew is a perfect example of what’s possible at The Pantheon,” says Like. “We believe in people and their ability to dream up amazing ideas and execute a vision. We knew when Brian and Katie Southern wanted to help solve the crop waste problem plaguing our local ag community, The Pantheon was where they needed to be.”

“The Pantheon deserves 100% of the credit,” says Katie Southern, AgroRenew’s Chief Science Officer. “The many partnerships we’ve formed and collaborations made to ensure prosperous economic growth, we owe to The Pantheon. We’re hopeful that this award will set a precedent to Knox County entrepreneurs that no matter what stage of business you’re in, The Pantheon is the place where dreams come alive.”

The groundbreaking took place today at the future site of AgroRenew at 701 E. Elkhorn Rd. in the Knox Industrial Park. AgroRenew plans to invest $83 million by 2026 to build out the facility in 4 phases. Once all phases are completed, the 196,000 sq. ft. facility will span 20 acres and employ more than 300 people.

In early 2023, Brian K. Southern, a business advisor and successful entrepreneur, was introduced to local farmers and agricultural leaders by Nichole Like, CEO at The Pantheon business incubator and co-working space. From those conversations, he learned about Knox County’s illustrious reputation as one of the nation’s primary watermelon production hubs, and the substantial amounts of organic waste generated annually. AgroRenew’s innovative bioplastics manufacturing plant will harness this local resource, ingeniously transforming watermelon waste into biodegradable and sustainable bioplastics. This pioneering endeavor aligns seamlessly with AgroRenew’s mission to reduce the environmental impact of plastic production and create a circular economy model.