The Twin Cities know how to grow food

While the Twin Cities of Minnesota, as Minneapolis and St. Paul are collectively known, are best known for a robust medical device cluster, the ag and food sector is also a strong innovation hub and offers Dutch innovators many opportunities to expand internationally.

The food system covers everything from developing seeds, fertilizer, and machinery to identifying market demand and delivering food to consumers. The region has the essential building blocks to make it an innovation cluster, including:

  • strong, historic leadership with generations of experience in agricultural production;
  • a prosperous ag and food industry (of the 17 Fortune 500 companies in the region, six are in the ag and food space);
  • a unique talent base with the highest concentration of food scientists in the nation (by three times);
  • a university that fosters quality research and spins out a large number of AgTech startups;
  • and government and government-backed organizations committed to further developing the ag and FoodTech cluster.

What people want, what people need

Many startups in the Twin Cities focus on creating unique and healthy food products. While this is something consumers enjoy (the alternative food scene in the Twin Cities is vibrant), the industry has different interests.

When trying to leverage the solid base of food corporations and agricultural industry, innovation in food safety and traceability, biofuels, food waste reduction, feed formulations and alternative proteins, as well as alternative farming practices, are of more interest.

The industry is also highly interested in tech that can help scale animal farming. Data-driven agriculture is identified as a field that is likely to pick up speed the fastest, as it poses a less risky and less capital intensive investment. Aside from ag and food, there is also a special interest in logistics and lot of movement in the alcoholic beverage space, especially beer.

Problem, opportunities and solutions

Pollution and disease are two major problems in the food and ag industry.

While most players in this space are interested in innovations that alleviate these problems, operations in Minnesota are likely to be more excited about it than operations in many other places in the US. The reason for this is that Minnesota is generally more environmentally conscious than much of the rest of the country.

Farmers and industry in this region are also anticipating higher penalties for pollution and waste in the near future, as well a rising prices of natural resources, such as water and fuel.

While this is something we will all face sooner rather than later, it depends on people how fast established industry is going to react. The way it looks now, Minnesota and California are ahead of the curve. These are therefore the places where the early adoption of new innovations in waste stream conversion, energy independence, reduced antibiotic use, and reduced pesticide, insecticide and fertilizer use, is most likely.

The Netherlands has built up a deep insight into the challenges that the ag and food industry faces, and, thanks to organizations such as Food Valley NL, has built a vast network of companies and knowledge institutions that can help tackling these challenges effectively. Sustainable innovations for efficient water use, fertilizer use and machinery use that address this issue coming out of the Netherlands could find fertile ground for early adoption in and around the Twin Cities.

Receptive to change

Many Minnesota farming organizations are at the table when dicuussing solutions to problems like pollution and resource scarcity. They are able to provide the reality in the fields, and are receptive to investing money and resources to implement new technologies.

It is apparent that environmentalists and farmers in Minnesota are finding a middle ground.

Techstars, an accelerator that runs dozens of renowned programs all over the world and that is already running a retail accelerator in the Twin Cities in collaboration with Target, has identified the Twin Cities as the location to build an ag and food accelerator. The interest of venture capitalists in food and ag tech space is also picking up.

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