Program to help food-related startups picks St. Paul for office
By Kristen Leigh Painter
A new program aimed at spurring innovation and technology in food and agriculture will reside in St. Paul, something city boosters are calling a victory in the quest to attract entrepreneurial businesses.
The Farm to Fork Accelerator Program, run by Techstars, has leased space in downtown St. Paul’s Osborn370 building. Techstars, a Boulder, Colo. organization that helps get good ideas to market faster, announced in December a new partnership with Cargill and Ecolab, both based in the Twin Cities.
The region’s robust history of food production made it a natural fit for this three-year accelerator program. Farm to Fork will select and host 30 young tech companies focused on agriculture, food safety, waste reduction, traceability and supply chain over those three years.
Doug Baker, chief executive of St. Paul-based Ecolab, pushed hard to land the accelerator in his company’s hometown, said Chris Tolbert, co-chair of St. Paul’s Innovation Cabinet and a member of the St. Paul City Council.
Techstars, in partnership with Target Corp., created a similar accelerator in Minneapolis focused on retail innovators. In the first two years of that program, four of the participating companies have moved, or indicated intent to move, to Minneapolis.
“I’m super excited about it,” Tolbert said. “Even if one company per cohort came here (as a result of the program), that would be a success.”
The St. Paul Innovation Cabinet — and now its offshoot, the Full Stack Initiative — formed after supercomputer company Cray Inc. and software company When I Work left downtown St. Paul two years ago.
Techstar’s goal in helping jump-start innovation in agriculture dovetails with the interests of Minnetonka-based Cargill, the world’s largest agribusiness by revenue.
“The Farm to Fork accelerator allows us to identify and invest in innovative entrepreneurs focused on bringing technology solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing the food industry today,” David MacLennan, chairman and CEO of Cargill, said in a statement. “We are proud to host this program in Minnesota, honoring the food and agriculture entrepreneurs that built this industry here over 150 years ago.”