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Kentucky ag-tech potential abounds as Alltech hosts startup forum with city and state leaders

May 28, 2019

Kentucky ag-tech potential abounds as Alltech hosts startup forum with city and state leaders

Discussion held as startup companies from around the world converge in Lexington

[LEXINGTON, Ky.] – The future of agriculture was on the minds of more than 3,000 attendees at ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference (ONE19), which began this week in Lexington, Kentucky. As startup companies continue to introduce the next generation of solutions, what action will need to be taken to develop a thriving ag-tech ecosystem in this region? At a forum held today at the Lexington Convention Center, city and state leaders met to discuss the next steps and to speak with startup founders and leaders about what would attract entrepreneurs to put down roots in Kentucky.  

“Since the conversation began about making Kentucky the Silicon Valley of the east, it’s been amazing to see the response, on all levels,” said Dr. Mark Lyons, president and CEO of Alltech. “Today, we are moving forward with a collaborative ‘call to arms’ led by Alltech, the city of Lexington and the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development as we work to make this dream a reality.”

Part of Alltech’s responsibility, said Lyons, is to use its resources and experience through the The Pearse Lyons Accelerator to facilitate the conversation and help propel it forward. The panel assembled for today’s discussion included Linda Gorton, mayor of Lexington, Kentucky; Terry Gill, secretary of economic development for Kentucky; Ryan Quarles, agriculture commissioner of Kentucky; Patrick Walsh, founder and managing director of Dublin-based startup hub Dogpatch Labs; and alumni from The Pearse Lyons Accelerator: James Millar, CCO of Entocyle; Allison Kopf, CEO of Agriyst; Frank Wooten, CEO of Vence; and Kevin Baum, CEO of Agriwebb.

Moderator Robert Walker, European business development officer for Alltech, asked the panelists why the Bluegrass region is a prime location for startup innovation.

“We have ... a highly educated community, low cost of living, high quality of life, arts and a good school system,” said Mayor Gorton, who added that MetroNet is currently wiring Lexington to become the largest gigabit city in the country.

Commissioner Quarles noted that Kentucky’s agricultural opportunities go beyond traditional farming.   

“Kentucky is more than cows, ploughs and sows,” said Quarles, citing industrial hemp as an example of how quickly Kentucky farmers are willing to innovate. “We have 130 new hemp companies, half of which were incorporated in the last six months, and we’re on a trajectory to have $100 million in Kentucky-derived hemp sales in 2019.”

The panelists currently working within the ag-tech startup space advised others on the panel and within the audience that, to attract the talent necessary to build a strong ag-tech community in Kentucky, they should market the strengths of the region, prepare to invest quickly and create effective partnerships.

“Dr. Lyons and Alltech are a perfect example of the private sector stepping into this and understanding how to partner with the state,” said Secretary Gill. “Ultimately there is a role for government to play, and in many cases it’s early on in terms of the formation of these accelerators.”

Seven leading ag-tech startups were in Lexington this week to pitch on the mainstage of ONE19. They represented the third cohort of The Pearse Lyons Accelerator, which saw more than 250 applicants from around the world for the late stage startup accelerator held in partnership with Dogpatch Labs in Ireland.