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Wells Fargo Foundation selects three Silicon Prairie companies for first agtech cohort

Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) announced this week its selection of five companies nationally to participate in the incubator’s first agtech cohort – the program’s fifth cohort.

IN2 is a technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and co-administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

RNAissance Ag LLC is one of the five companies selected for its innovations in developing technologies to produce food more sustainably. The company is based in Overland Park, Kansas. The other IN2 Cohort 5 companies are Aker Technologies (Aker), CoverCress, Intrinsyx Bio, and SolGro.

RNAissance Ag – pronounced “Renaissance” – is a biotechnology startup focused on delivering RNA-based insecticides for crop protection. RNAissance holds the exclusive license to proprietary RNAi technology developed at the Danforth Center that has promise to be effective for insect pests that previously were considered resistant to RNAi.

The company was formed in January 2019 by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and TechAccel. TechAccel was founded in 2014 as a first-of-its-kind venture and technology development company in the agriculture, animal health and food tech sectors. TechAccel sources, invests in and acquires early-stage innovations. Through collaborations with universities and research institutions, TechAccel conducts advancement and de-risking research and development to ready technologies for commercialization.

In selecting RNAissance Ag for the inaugural agtech cohort, IN2’s goal is to advance technologies that reduce agriculture’s carbon, energy and water impact, which collectively account for as much as 70 percent of water and 14 percent of energy usage worldwide. As a benefit of participation in the program, RNAissance Ag will receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding to test and advance its technologies with experts at the Danforth Center, the world’s largest independent plant science institute.

The Danforth Center’s Noah Fahlgren, Ph.D., director of Bioinformatics and a principal investigator, will work with RNAissance Ag technology inventors, who are also from the Danforth Center: Bala Venkata, Ph.D., senior research scientist and Nigel Taylor, Ph.D., associate member, and Dorothy J. King Distinguished Investigator at the Danforth Center.

“This is a terrific validation of our potential with this novel technology,” said Michael Helmstetter, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer of TechAccel in a press release. “The IN2 support will help us advance the design for our first two insect pest targets and fuel us along the development pathway more rapidly.”

The two other Silicon Prairie companies selected to participate in the cohort are Aker and CoverCress.

Aker is based in Chicago and seeks to advance crop diagnostics with practical technology tools and services to improve the profitability and sustainability of every farm operation. The company’s platform is designed to provide accurate in-season crop monitoring of disease, insects, and other stresses.

CoverCress is located in St. Louis and is a developer of a new oilseed crop developed from field pennycress. The CroverCress innovation is designed to grow as a winter crop, acting like a cover crop while also producing oil and high protein feed. The company raised $2.92 million in Series A1 venture funding in a deal led by Monsanto Growth Ventures and BioGenerator in December 2018.

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