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N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative Launches Startup Incubator and Seed2Grow Program

Adrian Percy addresses a crowd from a podium

April 11 was a milestone day for the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative as it celebrated the opening of a startup company incubator in NC State University’s Plant Sciences Building and the launch of its Seed2Grow entrepreneurship program.

Seed2Grow helps entrepreneurs bring NC State plant sciences discoveries into the marketplace to advance agriculture in North Carolina and beyond. The incubator provides entrepreneurs from two companies with office and laboratory space.

Garey Fox, dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, was among the speakers who addressed some 100 NC State faculty and staff members, agricultural technology industry representatives, investors and others who attended the launch.

“NC State’s motto and everything that we’re doing is around the think-and-do spirit, and there’s no more think-and-do than entrepreneurship and startup companies … that are taking really great research and putting it into the hands of our citizens and our growers and our producers in the state of North Carolina,” Fox said.

Dean Garey Fox of NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences said startup companies like those in the N.C. PSI’s Seed2Grow program play a vital role in putting research from the university into the hands of farmers and others.

There’s no more think-and-do than entrepreneurship and startup companies.

As N.C. PSI Executive Director Adrian Percy said, “The incubator will provide a few things. First is access to resources, so a company doesn’t have to fully equip their own lab. There are also opportunities for the interchange of ideas — being collectively connected with other colleagues.

“The mission of the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative is to improve lives through plant science innovation,” he continued. “What that means for us is bringing together faculty and researchers to work on some of the grand challenges we see in both agriculture and the environment. … What we want to help facilitate in the incubator space is how to translate … ideas from the researchers into actual products and services.”

Kathryn Polkoff of Hoofprint Biome introduces the incubator space to guests at its opening on April 11. Hoofprint Biome will share the space with Raleigh Biosciences.

First Incubator Users

The  two companies initially occupying the 2,500-square-foot incubator are Hoofprint Biome and Raleigh Biosciences. Hoofprint Biome, founded by NC State alumni Kathryn Polkoff and Scott Collins, has discovered novel enzymes that could naturally prevent methane emissions from cattle while increasing their productivity and profitability.

Raleigh Biosciences was founded by Ross Sozzani, an NC State professor of plant and molecular biology, and Duke University medical investigator Philip Benfey. It generates cell type-specific gene expression data and uses it for targeting control of gene expression and expediting crop development.

What we want to help facilitate in the incubator space is how to translate … ideas from the researchers into actual products and services.

The companies will use the incubator for nine months, with the option to renew once more for a total of 18 months. As those companies progress to other headquarters, they’ll be replaced by other Seed2Grow startups.

Seed2Grow Entrepreneurial Program

The incubator’s occupants, and other emerging companies, participate in the N.C. PSI’s  startup program, Seed2Grow, led by an 11-member Commercialization Advisory Council of university and faculty administrators along with ag tech industry leaders.

Kathleen Denya, an advisory council member and director of innovation partnerships for the N.C. PSI, said that the Seed2Grow program complements those provided by the university’s Office of Research Commercialization, which has helped launch over 190 startups since the 1980s.

“With the launch of the incubator and Seed2Grow, the N.C. PSI is in an excellent position to leverage the deep and diverse expertise within NC State and the private sector for delivering truly impactful solutions to critical food and agriculture issues,” Denya said.

Completion of Plant Sciences Building

The incubator’s upfitting marked the completion of construction of NC State’s $165 million, state-of-the art Plant Sciences Building, which has been underway since 2019.

The building, said N.C. PSI’s Adrian Percy, “is fully operational, it is full, it is humming with activity, and we’re very proud of what we’ve been able to achieve since we moved in two years ago.”

Thursday’s celebration was supported by Bonham and Brook, a global research-and-development tax consultancy with a branch in Raleigh, and Lavoie CPA, a financial operations management and accounting firm in Charlotte.

This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.