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Haslam Administration Eyes Ag Launch Support for Tennessee Rural Entrepreneurs and Growers

posted originally on Venture Tennessee Connections (  Wed. )

THE TALK is nearly over. Innovators in rural Tennessee are likely in 2015 to begin seeing more State attention paid to their capital formation, workforce, infrastructure and related business needs, through an initiative dubbed Ag Launch.

Conferees during yesterday’s AgriTech Challenge event in Murfreesboro generally endorsed draft proposals that have been developed in the past year by Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Julius Johnson and others, in response to a mandate by Gov. Bill Haslam.

The proposals have been forged through a protracted consultative effort — including numerous listening sessions, data analyses, surveys and other means.

In a statement provided VTC today, Commissioner Johnson said his agency “is committed to the idea of Ag Launch and the goal to make the department the primary point of contact for those who wish to increase entrepreneurial development and agricultural innovation in Tennessee. Though the details are still being worked out, we have received positive feedback from leadership within the agricultural community. This proposal also falls in line with the Governor’s Rural Challenge and commitment to create jobs, grow the economy, increase farm profitability and develop public and private partnerships. We plan to collaborate with our industry and university partners as we determine the next step.”

The research and vetting process has been driven largely by Memphis BioWorks Foundation CEO Steve Bares and Peter Nelson of the Memphis-based Ag Innovation Development Group, with direct involvement by Commissioner Johnson’s designee, Louis Buck, who is an international and market development specialist within Agriculture.

A final report fleshing-out entrepreneurial, educational and innovation-oriented portions of Gov. Haslam’s previously published 10-year strategic plan for improved rural economic development is soon likely to be sent by Commissioner Johnson to the Governor.

And, the Commissioner and his team will soon consider what, if any, funding or other support for the program is needed from the Tennessee General Assembly, over what period of time, Buck told VTC.

As previously stated by the governor, the rurally oriented agricultural innovation strategy is to address early-stage capital, access to related technology incubators, entrepreneur development and business acceleration programs.

Buck noted there is growing confidence that Tennessee can attract investment capital from VCs and private-equity firms elsewhere in the U.S. and the world, and may not determine there’s no need to rely solely on state-sponsored capital-formation programs.

Yesterday in Murfreesboro, said Buck, Ron Meeusen, director of Cultivian Sandbox Ventures, seemed to agree that Tennessee can lay a key role in global agricultural innovation and could attract outside capital. In an interview a year ago, Meeusen told VTC that global food production must rise 100%, and 70% of that increase must come from innovation.

Tennessee’s potential role in the global Food-Health-Prosperity domain will be further highlighted by next week’s major three-day Global Action Platform summit meeting, convening in Nashville.


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