GlobalSTL, the international company attraction initiative of BioSTL, formalized a business development agreement with French agTech accelerator AgrOnov this spring, to help businesses in both countries access U.S. and French agriculture markets.
The signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) established a new business relationship focused on agtech and foodtech between St. Louis and Dijon, France, through GlobalSTL and AgrOnov, a leading accelerator of agricultural innovation in France.
Creating an ecosystem foundation
BioSTL is a non-profit founded in 2001 with the mission of building a foundation for medical and plant sciences, innovation, and entrepreneur success that was and is transforming the St. Louis Economy.
“We had a lot of innovations coming out of our academic research institutions and our corporations, but if you were an entrepreneur and wanted to start a company you really had nothing to help you take that idea and build a company out of it,” said Vijay Chauhan, GlobalSTL Lead.
Without important startup cornerstones like investors, coworking spaces and business services, founders and entrepreneurs were leaving to go to the coasts.
Chauhan said BioSTL created an innovation ecosystem in St. Louis that didn’t exist in the early 2000s.
“BioSTL was created to build that ecosystem and focus on the strengths of St. Louis in ag and food on one side of the spectrum, and health care on the other side, because of St. Louis’ strengths in those two areas,” said Chauhan. “Today, what you’ll find in St. Louis is a very robust startup engine in life sciences. That can be tied back to the success that BioSTL has had.”
Furthering the mission with GlobalSTL
From there, GlobalSTL was launched by BioSTL in 2014 with a specific mission of recruiting high-growth, innovative companies from around the world in the healthcare, agriculture, cybersecurity and finance industries.
GlobalSTL started by making connections in Isreal where they saw a lot of traction and had success bringing in the U.S. headquarters of leading-edge agtech and healthcare companies.
That momentum attracted companies from countries like Argentina, Brazil and Ireland, which have also shown success. From there, St. Louis’s reputation as an ag- and eco-hub began to spread.
Establishing a French partnership
That’s where France came into the picture.
According to the Regional Economic Agency of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (AER BFC), the Bourgogne and Franche-Comté areas cover 47,800 sqare kilometers, including both rural and industrial activities, with farming occupying 63 percent of the space. The combination of industry and agriculture in the region offers fertile ground for an agtech cluster.
Business France and the AER BFC organized an exploratory trip for GlobalSTL in May 2017, followed by an agtech delegation of French companies that attended the Ag Showcase in St. Louis in September 2017.
Those meetings led to additional discussions and the May 2018 signing of the MOU between Pierre Guez, President of AgrOnov, and Chauhan, representing GlobalSTL.
GlobalSTL’s international partnership now connects the St. Louis and Burgundy regions’ agtech ecosystems at private and public sector levels, by providing an open door for French agtech and foodTech companies to enter the U.S. market via St. Louis, and for St. Louis-based agtech and FoodTech companies to access the French market.
In June, 15 companies from the U.S., including ten from the Midwest, traveled to France for a week to explore access points in European markets. Currently, three French AaTech startups have begun to explore entering the St. Louis market, and one St. Louis company is exploring the French/EU market.
The next touchpoint in the mutual exchange will be when AgrOnov brings a delegation of French companies to the 2018 AgShowcase in September, supported through funding from Business France and organized through AgrOnov.
What’s next for St. Louis and France
Donn Rubin, founder GlobalSTL and President and CEO of BioSTL, said the organization looks forward to there being additional two-way value coming out of the partnership.
“What this agreement is about, in a bilateral way, is for us to continue to focus and have a partner to help us identify [French companies] that really benefit from the relationships that we have and the assets that exist here,” said Rubin. “But also the other way around, looking to opportunities where St. Louis companies, or other companies that we brought here from other places in the world, could benefit from accessing partnerships in France, and accessing the agriculture markets in France.”
In addition to the private-sector MOU, the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership also entered into an MOU with the Regional Economic Agency of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté (AER BFC) to align local government priorities and actions.
“These partnerships reflect a common line of action aiming to foster the development of innovative companies in the field of agriculture, both in the U.S. and in France,” said Arnaud Marthey, AER BFC President. “The St. Louis area in the United States, like the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in France, has a very rich ecosystem of innovative players in agtech/biotech and entrepreneurship.”
Marthey said that a close collaboration offers an optimal way for French companies to develop abroad, and builds a bridge for shared innovation between North America and France, a sentiment echoed by Chauhan.
“AgrOnov and GlobalSTL are the perfect navigators for their respective world-class agriculture innovation and production ecosystems––providing the glue that will connect the Dijon/Burgundy region and the St. Louis/Midwest region through agriculture innovation,” said Chauhan. “France joins the growing constellation of international agTech ecosystems now connected with St. Louis.”
Christine Burright McGuigan is the Managing Editor of Silicon Prairie News.