Blog

InvestMidwest  |  April 17-18, 2024 | Kansas City, Missouri

InvestMidwest Companies on the Forefront of the AI Revolution

published January 19, 2024

Looking back on 2023 one thing is clear, it was certainly the year of artificial intelligence. With the launch of ChatGPT companies and individuals all over the world began to experience the potential, and potential pitfalls, of generative AI.

Brian Matthews, co-founder of Cultivation Capital, remarked that the ease of use of these early tools led to rapid adoption by companies across industries. And with all that movement in the market, is a huge opportunity for startups to solve the problems that will inevitably occur.

Monitaur, a Cultivation Capital portfolio company monitors its client’s AI for bias and drift. Minotaur is working first in the insurance industry, helping customers evaluate data and make decisions. Other industries with heavy regulation like banking and pharmaceuticals will also be navigating how to leverage AI to keep themselves free of liability in these highly regulated industries.

Matthews says, it’s important to get on board with AI before you are left behind, “If you are not already using generative AI to solve business problems internally and for your customers, your competition will out pace you.”  Investors are seeing an opportunity to get ahead of the game and companies with first mover advantage are seeing a lot of buzz across various sectors.

Despite investors being quick to find companies working with AI, Matthews says there has not been a lot of adoption of the technology in most firm’s day-to-day operations.

“Investors are very relationship oriented. Currently VC analysts and junior associates do the data collection and serve as initial gatekeepers. Soon, generative AI could be used first to find deal candidates, go find companies with certain characteristics of stage, size of capital being raised, geography, and increase speed to arrive at ‘no’ or next steps.”

Matthews argues that this could make VCs more efficient because the AI sources a wide number that meet a basic criteria. AI could also be used to identify unique value propositions from companies that need more help to refine their business model and overall presentation quality. “Generative AI has not been widely adopted by VC firms but investment firms are seriously considering and evaluating how and when to adopt generative AI.”

Sam Cummings, CEO of Dataplant, an InvestMidwest Alumus Company that seeks to utilize data to assist customer success teams, agrees with Matthews on the transformative nature of these new platforms and argues that we should all be leaning in and seeing how we can use the AI to make our day to day lives, and jobs, easier. “At this stage I think people are a bit afraid of AI, there’s this ‘will it take my job?’ hesitation.” Cummings says.

But Cummings argues that not only is AI “too stupid” to ever truly replace the knowledge that comes with actual lived experience, but that these technological revolutions have taken place before. “We’ve seen this many times before. Take the horse and buggy, you don’t want to be the ones fighting against progress.”

Cummings sees an opportunity to help people enjoy their work more, leading to more productive employees not engaged in the drudgery that often comes with the 9:00-5:00. “AI has the power to allow people to really enjoy their jobs. Right now 65% of people work just to pay their bills, but they have that thirst for something more meaningful. If we can take out the hours of running reports or sending redundant emails, those are hours they can spend pursuing things they are passionate about.”

The success of these future applications, however, hinges on the quality of the platform and the data it mines. This is where emerging and growing companies like Monitaur and Dataplant play a pivotal role, shaping the trajectory of the AI revolution.

The upcoming InvestMidwest Conference hosted in Kansas City April 17-18 will continue this conversation, hosting sessions that promise to invigorate discussions and collaborations at the forefront of the AI revolution. Register before Jan 31, 2024 for early bird pricing!  

If your company is developing AI applications and you would like to get in on the conversation before the conference, let us know so we can schedule time to interview you.  Please contact Lyndsey Gruber.

Meet the 2024 Planning Committee

published November 14, 2023

When CEO and Founder Micheal Kiel set out to create the first AI-powered platform to connect boaters with local marine professionals who maintain, fix, and clean boats he knew getting in the right rooms with the right people would be key.

Aaliyah Aramjoo

Analyst at KCRise Fund

While Aaliyah is an Analyst at KCRise Fund, she is concurrently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at Rockhurst University with concentrations in Finance, Economics, and Accounting. She discovered her passion for venture capital and entrepreneurship during an internship with Community America Credit Union as an Innovation Intern. There, she developed and pitched a startup aimed at maintaining reading proficiency and engagement during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aaliyah is also an intern with University Venture Fund Crossroads (UVFC) where she performs diligence on pre-Seed and Seed stage companies, conducts market analyses, and engages promising high-growth startups. Born and raised in Kansas City, Aaliyah has an innate passion and enthusiasm for the region’s startup ecosystem and is thrilled to be part of the planning and organization of InvestMidwest.

Connie Bowen

Co-Founder/General Partner at Farmhand Ventures

Connie is an agrifoodtech investor, currently building and backing companies creating the future of work in specialty crop agriculture at Farmhand Ventures. She got her start in agtech in St. Louis investing with The Yield Lab and leading The Yield Lab Institute, and has continued her exploration of the space through farmland investment at Chess Ag Full Harvest Partners, operations at Farmacopia F`arms, and farmer-centric investment and innovation at AgLaunch. She’s also a Venture for America alumn, and Venture Partner at Republic, and active thought-leader in agtech, contributing to Forbes, AgFunder, and others.

Daniel Kennedy

Vice President at BioNexus KC

Daniel Kennedy is responsible for establishing and expanding the medical and animal health research infrastructure within the Kansas City region. To do this, Daniel facilitates collaborations between scientists and life science funding agencies. Another important focus is to ensure availability of a trained, capable workforce to meet the needs of the area.

Prior to joining BioNexus KC, Daniel was the Research and Development Director at Novation iQ, a private research facility in Lenexa, KS. There he spearheaded creation of the Innovation Technology Evaluation process that identified notable applications and business opportunities for emerging products in medicine. He also curated a network capable of financially supporting the lab’s varied research initiatives. Daniel’s systems established a proven track record at Novation iQ of translating research concepts into packaged, profitable assets across a multitude of medical fields.

Daniel has worked at several research labs on a number of multi-disciplinary projects. At the start of his career, he worked in neuropharmacology to aid cutting-edge rehabilitation techniques for stroke and cerebral palsy patients. Based on this work, Daniel quickly transitioned into tissue engineering and histology studies resulting in groundbreaking research around targeted muscle reinnervation to generate “feeling” in a prosthetic limb. He further supplemented his skillsets with bioinformatic studies and custom software constructs for some of the earliest analyses of gene-therapy off-target/on-target causatums. From robotics to neurochemistry, Daniel’s multifaceted background provides him a unique viewpoint on complex scientific issues.

Daniel joined the BioNexus KC team in 2022. In the community, he is a frequent supporter of Folds of Honor, Big Brothers Big Sisters KC, TWKC and others. He tutors children with developmental disorders to help his community cope with virtual learning. Daniel most looks forward to serving his community on a larger scale by working with the many creative organizations throughout the KC area.

Alfred Jackson

Director of Portfolio at Arch Grants

Alfred Jackson is an adviser and operator. He's built a career around building leverageable corporate, venture capital, and talent relationships for early-stage startups.  He's led entrepreneur support and investor connections at Arch Grants, was an investor at Atento Capital and Lightship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and most recently led sales and operations for an early-stage workforce marketplace startup. He's also an angel investor through Concrete Rose Capital's Super Angels Program. Alfred has had the opportunity to build his career and adult life in St. Louis, and now that he's moved back, he wants to help bridge the gap between culture and innovation in our community.

David Moon

Principal at Cultivation Capital

David Moon is Principal at Cultivation Capital focusing on B2B software investments. Prior to joining Cultivation Capital, David worked as an operator at vinvinvin inc., founded by Doin Kim (previously Cofounder & Global President of MBX, YC W14 – Series D).
David trained as an analyst at IMM Investment, a leading multi-asset alternative investment firm in Asia, focusing on venture capital, growth equity and infrastructure, and worked as an associate at Ascend Venture Capital focusing on early-stage startups, investing in companies such as Utopia Labs, Oxio and Producer’s Trust.
BSBA, Washington University in St. Louis, double major in Finance and Computer Science.

Tammy Platt, Ph.D.

Manager of Innovation & Strategy at Néstle Purina PetCare Global

Dr. Platt manages strategic alliances with start-up companies, universities, and suppliers, providing strategic oversight to collaborative research in support of the Global R&D and Innovation platforms within Nestle Purina. Previously, Tammy served as section leader for the Nutrition Trial Management team at the Nestle Purina Product Technology Center, Missouri.

Prior to joining Nestle Purina, Tammy spent two years with the Innovation Stockyard as a Science Officer helping animal health start-up companies commercialize their ideas. She spent 5 years as an Assistant Professor of Animal and Equine Sciences at Morehead State University and has more than 30 years experience with the equine industry.

Bijoy Shah

Investor at Fulcrum Global Capital

Bijoy is an investor at Fulcrum Global Capital, an early-stage venture fund focused on boosting global food production through investments in AgTech, Animal Health, and Supply Chain. A graduate of Boston College with a background in finance, entrepreneurship, and social impact, Bijoy co-founded the first student-led venture capital firm at Boston College in partnership with SSC Venture Partners. He is a 2022 Venture for America fellow, a two-year program that places recent graduates in entrepreneurship ecosystems across 13 US cities. He serves as the Kansas City fellow lead, co-lead for Antha Prerna (South Asian affinity group), and co-lead for VFAsians.

Boat Planet Makes Waves After Presenting at InvestMidwest

published October 27, 2023

When CEO and Founder Micheal Kiel set out to create the first AI-powered platform to connect boaters with local marine professionals who maintain, fix, and clean boats he knew getting in the right rooms with the right people would be key.

Enter the InvestMidwest Conference. A unique event that brings startups, investors, and local stakeholders together for two days of networking, presentations, and the opportunity to foster connections that lead to investments. Companies are selected from a rigorous process that gives preference to those currently operating or planning to open headquarters in the Midwest region.

Thanks to presenting at InvestMidwest, Boat Planet was able to make a large number of connections, all in one night.

I was able to tell our story to 100 people, in one night. It’s taken from April to October to connect with that same number of people.” Michael said.

Connections like those made that night in April have proven invaluable, totaling around $1.25 million in investment by Micheal’s estimation.

“The quality of the attendees, from the presenters to the startups to the VCs was really impressive. The conference did a great job facilitating natural conversations and had a really cool atmosphere, we absolutely consider it part of our success story.”

Investor Dan Conner, CFA of Ascend Venture Capital agreed, noting:

We feel incredibly fortunate to have discovered a gem such as Boat Planet at InvestMidwest. This signature event provided a unique platform for groundbreaking startups from the Midwest region to shine in the company of funders and other crucial resources. The entrepreneurial spirit and innovation on display at InvestMidwest are a testament to the bright future of the local startup ecosystem. We are pleased to announce that we subsequently made an investment in Boat Planet, and we couldn’t be more excited to partner in Michael Kiel’s vision. We look forward to helping Boat Planet and the Midwest startup community achieve new heights of tech and innovation.

Boat Planet is just one of the exciting companies making connections with the help of the InvestMidwest Conference. We’re excited to be returning to Kansas City in April and will be opening applications soon!

2023 Presenting Companies in the News

published September 12, 2023

We are delighted to highlight a few recent successes from 2023 presenting companies.

Boat Planet

Boat Planet secured FortySix Venture Capital as the lead investor of their $2 million seed round. With $750,000 committed, they are in due diligence with 9 VCs and 1 angel group.

Buswell Biomedical

Buswell Biomedical is a finalist for the 2023 Military-Connected Entrepreneur Awards.

Farm Health Guardian

Farm Health Guardian merged with NoveTechnologies, LLC to improve on-farm biosecurity. This strengthened their team, their product line and patents, and now have team members based in Nebraska.

GenoTwin

GenoTwin was selected by Tyson and Tyson Ventures as a Startup in Residence.

Life365

Life365 has quite a few achievements to highlight: included in the VA RPM RFP for $250M, named to AVIA Connect 2023 (top 5 tier), and spotlighted on the Microsoft Remote Patient Monitoring Blog.

Phinite

Phinite won Pivot Bio's Farm Next competition.

If your company presented at InvestMidwest and you have news, let us know!

Entrepreneur Success Panel

published March 28, 2023

The event will include some words from local entrepreneurs who have been in the shoes of our presenting companies. We're excited to put a spotlight on successful entrepreneurs in our innovation ecosystem.

Martha Schlicher, PhD

Executive in Residence
BioGenerator

In her role as an Executive in Residence at BioGenerator, Martha Schlicher serves as the CEO of Impetus Agriculture, as Chairman of the Board of Plastomics, as a co-founder and Chairman of the Board of Solis Agrosciences, and as a co-founder of Susterco. She works closely with the BioGenerator Ag Ventures team to advance new innovations in agriculture by making the region attractive to agricultural startups and fostering the formation and advancement of new companies. Martha has more than 30 years of global life sciences experience leading the identification, development, commercialization, strategy, marketing, sales and financing of early to late stage agricultural technologies as an Executive at Monsanto and Mallinckrodt as well as startups in the agricultural sustainability space. She serves on the Board and Chair of the Audit Committee of publicly traded GreenLight Bio, as a Biosciences Expert Advisory Committee Member to Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, and as a past advisor to the Secretary of Energy, Dr. Ernie Moniz. She has a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana and an MBA from Northwestern University.

Walter Smith

President and CEO
OxaluRx, Inc.

Walter Smith is President and CEO of OxaluRx, Inc., a biotech company that is working on novel, oral drugs for chronic kidney disease that is entering preclinical development. Mr. Smith is. a scientific and business development consultant for several public and private biotech companies. He has over 40 years of industry experience spending 29 years at Pfizer and legacy companies where he was VP of Research for the Inflammation and Immunology Therapeutic Area. Mr. Smith made significant impact on patient care in the area of inflammation biology, arthritis drug development (Arthrotec®, Celebrex®, and Bextra®), and oncology supportive care. After Pfizer, Mr. Smith was CEO of Confluence Life Sciences, Inc., a drug discovery and development company based in St. Louis, MO which was sold to Aclaris Therapeutics, Inc in 2017. Currently Aclaris has 3 drugs in the clinic that came from the Confluence’s Kinect Technology platform with clinical trials ongoing in Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Hidradenitis Suppurativa and Atopic Dermatitis.  Mr. Smith continues to be active in the St. Louis biotech scene and is a member of the BioGenerator Investment Advisory Committee.

Kevin Cook

Director of Breeding
CoverCress Inc.

Kevin Cook is Director of Breeding at CoverCress Inc.  He is a crop improvement research leader focused on addressing challenges of agriculture through genetics solutions.  CoverCress’ work to develop a high performance winter oilseed crop from a common weed is an example of the type of work Kevin excels in.  He is skilled in establishing and leading crop genetics programs that leverage technology to deliver on challenging genetic improvement objectives and timelines.  Kevin holds a PhD in plant breeding and Genetics from Iowa State University.  He learned the ropes of crop improvement at Monsanto where his work concentrated on corn with diverse roles in breeding, technology development, and genetic trait deployment, ultimately leading a global team responsible for corn trait deployment around the world.  Kevin’s recent years were invested in the St. Louis agtech startup world, leading technology and crop development initiatives as CTO of Kaiima and Director of Breeding at Benson Hill.  Kevin has lived in St. Louis since 2010 and values the dynamic work environment of the St. Louis agtech ecosystem that creates opportunities for entrepreneurs to grow ideas into businesses.

Moderated by:

Derek Rapp

Managing Director
RiverVest Venture Partners

Derek Rapp is a managing director at RiverVest Venture Partners, a life sciences venture capital firm that invests in early-stage biopharmaceutical and medical device companies. He joined RiverVest in 2019. Prior to RiverVest, Derek served as president & CEO of JDRF, the world’s largest non-government funder of diabetes research and a major advocacy group for the type 1 diabetes community, and as CEO for St. Louis-based, life sciences start-up Divergence, Inc., which he led to a successful exit. He worked for many years for Monsanto Company in a variety of roles, most notably head of mergers and acquisitions, where he led transactions totaling more than $7 billion. Derek began his career in mergers and acquisitions with Lazard Freres & Co. in New York.

Derek is a current member of the board of directors and the executive committee of Research!America, chairman of the board of directors of WeedOUT, a member of the board of directors of Cancer Research Foundation, and a member of the Global Mission Board of JDRF. He has served on numerous other boards, including chairing each of the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation Board of Directors, the Plant and Life Sciences Working Group in St. Louis, and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Friends Board.

Derek earned an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an A.B. from Brown University.

Strategic Corporate Investment Panel

published March 27, 2023

We are excited to open the discussion to strategic corporate investment at this year's event. Our first panel on April 13 is focused on trends in Midwest investing, including how geospatial is moving into other industries.

Kelly Gillespie

Vice President of Digital Ecosystem Services, Climate LLC and Digital Farming
Bayer Crop Science

Kelly Gillespie serves as Vice President of Digital Ecosystem Services for Climate. Kelly leads the development of infrastructure and relationships that pave the way for new value pools for digital ecosystems. Kelly’s team drives and delivers Ecosystem Services strategies for our environmental and sustainability-focused products, including carbon sequestration and water use efficiency.  

Kelly is a crop physiologist by training with a BA from Knox College in Galesburg, IL and a PhD from University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She did a post doc at the Danforth Center focused on photosynthetic improvements in algae as a potential biofuel. She joined Monsanto in 2011 and has held various leadership positions in Biotechnology, Breeding and R&D portfolio management.

Most recently, Kelly served as Crop Efficiency Portfolio Lead on the R&D Crop Team, where she focused on the global advancement of a flagship technology platform, Short Stature Corn, as well as identifying new research targets in carbon sequestration and nitrogen efficiency for gene editing and biologics. She brings a wealth of experience in translating business opportunities into clear technical strategies.

Kelly is an active participant in the Bayer WiSE (Women in Science Exchange) network, is an advocate for diversity and a peer leader in culture management and expanding the understanding of unconscious bias. External to Bayer, Kelly is active in the American Society of Plant Biology and sits on the executive board of the North American Plant Phenotyping Network. She resides in Ballwin, MO with her husband and 17 year old daughter and is currently trying to face the reality that her daughter will be leaving for college next year.

Yinka Faleti

Partner
Ascend Venture Capital

Yinka Faleti is a partner at Ascend Venture Capital. Yinka leads efforts for fundraising, investor relations, marketing and branding, and community engagement, while engaging in the selection of target companies.

Prior, Yinka Faleti was the 2020 Democratic nominee for Missouri Secretary of State. Yinka’s campaign inspired over one million votes--the first African American man to do so in the 200-year history of the state.

Born in Nigeria, Yinka immigrated to the United States at age seven. Yinka’s big break came through education. He graduated as valedictorian of his junior high school in Florida. In lieu of his last two years of high school, Yinka attended and graduated from the Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science. From there, he accepted an appointment to and graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Upon graduation, Yinka earned his commission as an officer in the active-duty U.S. Army and served over six years as a combat arms officer in tank units. Yinka attained the rank of Captain after two back-to-back deployments overseas to Kuwait as part of Operation Desert Spring prior to September 11, 2001 and Operation Enduring Freedom in response to September 11.

After his Army career, Yinka moved to St. Louis to attend and graduate from law school at Washington University. He then practiced as a litigation attorney at a global law firm and subsequently as a state prosecutor, where he worked for justice for victims of crime.

Sensing there was even more he could do to help his community, Yinka accepted a position as senior vice president with United Way of Greater St. Louis. There, he led the fundraising and volunteer engagement divisions, raising $300M over four annual campaigns to help one in three people in the Greater St. Louis region. From there, Yinka went on to lead as Executive Director of the successor nonprofit to the Ferguson Commission, Forward Through Ferguson. He led the organization to serve as conscience and catalyst to inspire the St. Louis region on a path to racial equity.

Yinka lives in St. Louis with his wife, Ronke, and their four children.

Andy Dearing

President, Spatial STL Advisors
GeoFutures Initiative Lead

Andy Dearing is a geospatial entrepreneur and is the President of Spatial STL Advisors. Andy currently serves as the lead for the GeoFutures Initiative, an Initiative of Greater St. Louis Inc.  GeoFutures serves as the regional strategy for building an inclusive growth strategy to support the development of St. Louis as the premiere global geospatial hub.  

Andy also is a General Partner at Cultivation Capital, serving on the venture capital group’s Geospatial Tech Fund.  He also serves as an advisor to the Taylor Geospatial Institute, Co-Chair for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s St. Louis Area Working Group, and serves on several startup and non-profit Boards.  

Prior to Spatial STL Advisors, he served as the CEO of Boundless Spatial, a leading startup in the geospatial industry.  After moving the headquarters to St. Louis and leading the organization in over 200% growth in a 2 year period, he led the exit of Boundless to Planet Labs, Inc in 2019. Andy has also served in leadership roles at Esri, SAIC, and IMAPS over the past 20 years.  

Andy earned his Masters of Business Administration from Maryville University, and holds a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Science and Bachelors of Science in Aviation Management from Saint Louis University.

Sean O'Connor

Managing Director
Conexus Venture Capital

Sean is the Managing Director for Conexus Venture Capital Inc. & Emmertech. Conexus Venture Capital’s first fund, CVC Fund #1, is a 2019 vintage $32M fund focused on prairie based startups. Emmertech is a $60M early stage Canadian agtech fund. Prior to Conexus, Sean was on the leadership team of a Canadian fintech, Grow Technologies Inc. (acquired by ATB). He graduated with a degree in Finance and International Business from McGill University.

Moderated by:

Jill Meyer

Senior Director
Technology Ventures

2023 Presenting Companies

published March 6, 2023

After receiving impressive presenting company applications from around the world, our selection committee diligently reviewed all the applications. They have made their selections!

We are excited to announce this year's InvestMidwest presenting companies.

AgTech

Auxilium MD

Richardson, TX

We create miniature implantable, injectable, and wearable medical devices for health monitoring, diagnostics, and treatment of pharmacoresistant diseases in pets like epilepsy and Spinal cord injury. Our first product is MILO, an implantable Vagus nerve stimulator (VNS) will treat canine epilepsy to reduce or eliminate seizures. Epilepsy is the number one neurological disease in dogs and 40% of epileptic dogs are put down due to multiple reasons including pharmacoresistance response to drugs, low compliance to drug therapy, behavioral changes due to drugs and more. Auxilium is repurposing this VNS implant for treating canine epilepsy starting with pharmacoreistant animal subjects. There are more than 200 million pet dogs in the developing world and 1% are indicated to epilepsy making this a very large market with no solution outside of century old pharmaceuticals as the new drugs developed for humans requires very hard to achieve compliance for dosing in animals. Our therapy is an extension of the therapy used to treat epilepsy in human patients with an implantation population of more than 150,000 humans worldwide over the past three decades. A canine large animal model was used for pre-clinical studies for the VNS device and the same human device has been used for treating epilepsy in canines with good success.

Corbiota GmbH

Duesseldorf-Pempelfort, Germany

Corbiota aims to create a more sustainable modern farming by providing young animals with natural and animal-friendly nutrition. Feeding young animals with Corbiota’s earthworms strengthens their eubiosis, the natural balance of microorganisms in their gut and immune system and triggers their natural instincts. They grow up stronger, healthier and more resistant towards diseases, reducing the need for antibiotics treatment - one of the biggest global challenges in today’s farming.

Edison Agrosciences, Inc.

St. Louis, MO

Natural rubber – from sunflower. Natural rubber (NR) has properties that can’t be matched with synthetic materials, but the supply is at risk – 90% comes from one geography and all comes from clones of a species that was wiped from its native continent, South America, by disease. We’re simply increasing the amount of rubber already produced by the sunflower plant to create a domestic supply, prevent further tropical deforestation, and reduce forced/child labor.

Eiwa

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Eiwa mobilizes the world’s agronomic knowledge by providing a data cloud for the agricultural ecosystem. We’ve built a SaaS Data Cloud that helps companies centralize and manage massive amounts of data to extract the most value out of it. We believe that agronomic knowledge development is and will continue to be in the hands of farmers, agronomists, and data scientists around the world; those closest to the reality of each farming environment. They just need the right tools to analyze data on farm input performance, management practices and environmental impact. We help agronomists around the world build their own conclusions based on data and share the insights with others. From simple correlations between agronomic traits, to the development of more complex predictive or prescriptive models, the future of Ag lies in the rapid growth of digital agronomic knowledge, developed by the entire farming ecosystem.

Farm Health Guardian

Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Farm Health Guardian is a proven biosecurity software platform that helps you and your employees protect the health of your livestock and poultry, saving you time and money. There are two components to the platform:

Farm Health Protect is a biosecurity management system that records the movement of trucks and people on and off farm properties for rapid contact tracing in the event of a disease outbreak.

Farm Health Monitor is an animal health reporting system that improves communication between producers, vets and technical staff to enable early disease detection.

GenoTwin Inc.

New York, NY

Using the power of genomics and artificial intelligence, GenoTwin is revolutionizing biosecurity and sustainability for livestock with advanced omics insights into infectious diseases. Our insights help reduce mortality and healthcare management costs on livestock farms.

Insignum AgTech

Indianapolis, IN

Insignum AgTech enables plants to use their pigments to talk to farmers. Using gene editing, our plants turn color before a yield-reducing stress can be identified, providing information that gives farmers confidence to sustainably address the problem when, where, and only if needed. Currently, plants have the genetic capacity to yield over three times more per acre but unknown stresses reduce that potential. Farmers love our patented prototypes, they trust when their own plants communicate in a concrete, tangible way.

Phinite

Durham, NC

We have developed a low-cost, low-energy drying system powered by a robotic material handling system to mine and manufacture fertilizer from manure. We're targeting hog farms in NC initially as they have a strong environmental need and large legacy resource to mine. Farmers buy our drying system. We subcontract its installation on the farm. We operate the system remotely from our central head office and generate recurring revenue from the fertilizer sales. We split to profits with the farmer to give them a payback on their asset. We have run our first full scale production system for 12 months, and have sold all the fertilizer we've produced. We've sold 2 new drying systems which are under construction now.

Solis Agrosciences Inc.

St. Louis, MO

Solis is building the first premium research services provider for the growing AgTech innovation ecosystem.  We offer enabling, highly specialized research capabilities to innovators so they can more efficiently deliver solutions to growers and consumers. We have launched with our Plant Pipeline as a Service, a core capability that enables the insertion or modification of genes in plants so that the next generation of food crops can be developed. Our well-validated process enables Ag innovators to generate transgenic and gene-edited crops in a quicker and more cost-effective manner than doing so on their own.  We are now expanding with adjacent service offerings in molecular characterization and greenhouse grow-out capabilities, and have future expansion plans in insect bioassays, bioanalytical characterization, and other services.

The Bee Corp.

Indianapolis, IN

For growers who rent beehives to pollinate 1/3 of our food, The Bee Corp offers Verifli, an infrared (IR) image analysis tool that allows users to save time and money resulting in improved pollination and crop value. This patented, NSF funded technology is currently being used across 6 crops in 6 countries, including large multi-national customers. The technology has several additional applications including farm decision support, animal health, and food storage.

MedTech

Amplified Sciences

West Lafayette, IN

Amplified Sciences is a molecular diagnostics company unlike other diagnostics companies due to their ultra-sensitive molecular sensing technology with composition of matter IP exclusively licensed from Purdue University. The technology is disease state agnostic, can detect to the single molecule level, scales easily to point of care, and provides a very favorable cost structure for their platform of reagents.  The first application – early detection of pancreatic cancer - is an assay that will quickly prove the investment thesis due to large unmet medical need and a favorable reimbursement path. The team has delivered a working prototype and published proof of concept data. The company has closed a $1.2M Seed which will enable technical and clinical validation of the PanCystPro product and position the company for launch of a commercializable lab developed test in 2022.

Axolotl Biosciences

Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Axolotl supplies unique 3D bioink solutions that are compatible with multiple bioprinting platforms. Our inks incorporate both biological and printability requirements for sensitive cell types for advanced tissue engineering applications.

BenMedica

St. Louis, MO

Benmedica is a proven, industry leading solution to substantially reduce drug costs in real-time seamlessly at the point-of-prescribing (PoP) and point-of-sales (PoS). We have a track record of saving plans $12 per member per year (PMPY) and will be expanding the potential savings to $16M to $28M per year for every 1M members before refill savings with an upside potential of $167+ PMPY with planned roadmap capabilities. Our currently deployed solution presents primary care physicians and specialists with lower cost drug alternatives that are therapeutically similar directly within nearly all EMRs without integration over the existing Surescripts backbone. Benmedica has the most intelligent drug alternatives based upon a solution years in the making applying substantial pharmaceutical clinical expertise and a sophisticated software platform exceeding other capabilities including even the largest brands.

GreenMark Biomedical Inc.

Ann Arbor, MI

At GreenMark we’re aiming to transform the dental experience through early detection and noninvasive/atraumatic treatment. We're trying to “save the world's teeth”.  Dental caries (tooth decay) is the world's most prevalent chronic disease. Over 95% of Americans suffer from caries, and in 2022 the WHO declare we're in a Global Oral Health crisis. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 5 Americans had untreated caries, and the ADA reported that in any one-year period anywhere for 100 to 200 million Americans do NOT see the dentist. We have a biobased nanoparticle technology platform with products that we are now in the middle of launching, that 1) find early stage caries lesions in enamel (way before you see it on an X-ray), and 2) a noninvasive targeted treatment that delivers hydroxyapatite crystals back into the subsurface of tooth enamel.

Healium XR

Columbia, MO

In six peer-reviewed journals, Healium has been shown to slow the fast activity in the brain, reduce anxiety, and increase feelings of positivity in as little as four minutes. Healium's proprietary tech connects biometric data from any consumer wearable to the metaverse. It is the world's first AR | VR platform controlled by a brain-computer interface and the user's heart rate via wearables people already have in their homes. We give people 'superpowers' to control virtual worlds with their minds and hearts. Our patented technology allows the user to modify and recommend virtual, mixed, or augmented reality content via EEG, heart rate, and other biometrics. Healium creates biometrically controlled content for its immersive media channel and also licenses its IP.

Kilele Health

Dayton, OH

Kilele is focused on bending the curve for chronic disease management and outcomes as well as costs of care.  Kilele’s CGM+ builds on the highly evolved form factor, high user acceptance, high physician acceptance, and massive prior technological investment in continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) platforms.  But today, CGMs are not platforms at all – they all only measure one thing: glucose.  And the CGM OEMS are investing tens of millions in R&D just to get those systems to measure one or two other parameters, like ketones or lactate.

Life365, Inc.

Scottsdale, AZ

Digital Health is a trillion-dollar market opportunity focused on new efficiencies to address individual health needs from wellness – to costly, complex chronic care. The industry is rapidly moving to Value-Based and Consumer-Directed healthcare. The recent pandemic accelerated the need for improved efficiencies in how healthcare is delivered, and innovative ways to engage consumers in managing their health outside the point of care.  “PayVider” (Payers+Providers) models are emerging, as well as Hospital@Home, both needing to improve their economics in extending care to the home.

OxaluRx, Inc.

St. Louis, MO

OxaluRx was founded on the idea that inhibition of the enzyme glycolate oxidase (GO) could reduce the overproduction of calcium oxalate and subsequent deposition in the kidney, vasculature and other tissues.  Originally, this was an orphan disease opportunity for patients with PH1 (5K patients in US/Eur).  New data has implicated the same gene (AGT) is downregulated in recurrent kidney stone formation that is seen in diseases such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and NASH (1.5M patients in US).

Surgimatix, Inc

Chicago, IL

Surgimatix has developed a proprietary, soft tissue fixation platform technology to improve outcomes and reduce costs in minimally invasive surgical (MIS) procedures. Surgimatix has secured FDA 510(k) clearance on a single-use medical device to improve outcomes, reduce costs, and mitigate post-operative patient pain in the $500M US hernia market. Our patented device has a seamless, 1:1 fit to the existing general surgery workflow and requires little/no training for surgeons to use the product. We deliver the benefits of suture-like fixation of internal tissues specifically for minimally invasive procedures.

Zea Biosciences

Boston, MA

Zea is a biologics drug developer with a faster, more cost effective and linearly scalable manufacturing platform. Zea is partnering with some of the leading universities with therapeutic development programs ideal for our platform and development expertise.

Info and Data Tech

Applied Bioplastics Corp

Austin, TX

We have proven how to use plant fibers to reduce petrochemicals used in multiple classes of polymer materials. Harvesting fibrous plants and producing plant fiber-based plastic alternatives sequesters CO2 while creating mechanically superior products. By developing novel research, we are producing commercially viable plant-based plastic alternatives and sustainable materials that improve the health of our planet and offer solutions to planet-harming petroleum-based plastics. The company’s products have the potential to transform materials technology and the plastics industry by providing a means for manufacturers to reduce their carbon footprint while minimal effort. The company has two products ready to market: a pelletized biothermoplastic feedstock and a biothermoset resin building material. The initial objective is to reduce the amount of petrochemical content in essential polymer-based materials. Success will feed research and disruption in other economic sectors.

Boat Planet

St. Louis, MO

Boat Planet is the first platform to connect boaters with local marine professionals that maintain, fix, and clean boats. Boat Planet makes it easier for boaters to message pros, get pricing, and pay all in one platform. On the other side, we're making it easier for pros to make money. Marine pros can accept or decline jobs, message boaters, send pricing, and receive payment faster than ever.


Buswell Biomedical

St. Louis, MO

Buswell Biomedical is developing the Upward Mobility, a mobility device for use in Rehabilitation Hospitals. My day to day tasks involve product development, proof of feasibility, and market research. We are developing a Machine Learning algorithm that the device will use to determine if a patient is unstable. A Machine Learning library is being developed from data collected using a specialized harness. To develop this library, more than 100 samples have been collected from healthy people sitting and standing while wearing this specialized harness with 4 embedded sensors.

DataPlant

St. Louis, MO

Dataplant is a sentient customer success platform built on procedural generation technology that arms customer success professionals with the tools to source, analyze and act on their data within minutes. All the client has to do with Dataplant is import their data and tell us a few details about the data. Our AI/ML system then generates all of the tables, reports, dashboards, page views, and insights automatically. Allowing the user to curate which insights, charts, and views they want to keep by favoriting things they like and archiving others. DataPlant also allows users to build truly data driven customer health scoring processes all without being technical or requiring tons of resources.

Farm to Flame Energy Inc

Pittsburgh, PA

We provide clean electricity, through the Farm to Flame Generator, a carbon-neutral electricity asset that is just as reliable as diesel…but half the cost, with no smoke and no odor. We use fuels like sawdust, cornstalks, and paper waste for electricity generation. Our 30KW Generator can power 3 homes, a commercial building, or a medium sized farm. We supply up to 500KW with one generator.

HabiTerre

Champaign, IL

HabiTerre is a farming financial risk modeling company. They help financial institutes, public agencies, and individual producers to quantify, manage, and reduce financial risks in the farming-related business. HabiTerre aims to monitor and model every crop field’s financial risks in the United States and worldwide. They have developed revolutionary approaches to rate historical and real-time financial risks for each crop field by integrating advancing technology in three domains, satellite/corp modeling, artificial intelligence, and agricultural finance modeling.

Quint Workspaces Inc.

Holland, MI

A new approach to making and distributing work furniture that's intuitive to specify, fast to deliver, and affordable by comparison to current equivalent products (20% less).

SampleServe, Inc.

Traverse City, MI

Most groundwater pollution sites in the US are related to the storage of gasoline and diesel fuel, basically your typical gas station. The numbers vary based on the operator, but at any given time, between 15% and 25% of all gas stations have some kind of on-going pollution problem. Other industries like manufacturing firms, chemical companies, dry cleaners, even home heating fuel tanks also contribute to the problem. The SampleServe solution to this outdated methodology, is a software platform that ties together all the different users under one central database. This software platform has a web-based project management tool that can save Project Managers time on scheduling and communication.

Sawback Technologies Inc.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Sawback Technologies is a near-surface sensing company, that has developed a proprietary solution to collect, visualize and analyze near-surface data to identify underground utilities, fluid leaks, soil layers, and infrastructure health.

Alumni Highlight: Pitchly

published March 1, 2023

Pitchly, a data empowerment platform catering to firms and businesses for automating content and document creation, stands out among the noteworthy companies that have made presentations at InvestMidwest in the past. Pitchly's appearance at InvestMidwest in 2019 underlines the company's potential for growth and promise.

The Pitchly Voyage: From Startup to InvestMidwest

Since its establishment in 2014, Pitchly has transformed the way organizations handle data for productivity and the way developers construct for businesses. The company addresses the challenge of disconnected and ineffective tools such as Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Sharepoint, or IT-owned databases used for data-heavy document creation. Pitchly's SaaS platform enables non-technical users to produce data-enriched real-time PowerPoint and Word documents linked to internal business data, regardless of where it is stored. As a result, Pitchly has significantly reduced the time and errors involved in creating such documents. The platform brings together disparate information sources, making it simple to catalog, locate, and create engaging and pertinent data-driven Word and PowerPoint documents.

Pitchly end-users can even generate custom forms to populate data to those original sources, ensuring that their teams utilize the most relevant and up-to-date data. The platform consolidates a myriad of digital data sources, including Excel, SQL, Salesforce, and others, into a unified, standardized tabular view of the data that can be accessed, searched, filtered, and integrated into documents and presentations instantaneously. This functionality allows users to easily publish select information from their databases in various digital forms on a website.

In 2022, Pitchly attained noteworthy milestones. The company expanded its IRR by 100% and its team by 100%, added partners, launched content API, and registered up to five million users. The ideal size of the company that Pitchly targets is one with less than 200 employees and a $50,000 spend. Thanks to the platform's automated document creation capabilities, users benefit from a 93% reduction in the time it takes to prepare final documents.

Pitchly has secured $1.8 million in funding from investors, including CABRA VC, Nebraska Angel Network, Twelve19 Ventures, Ames Seed Capital, Iowa Dept Economic Dev, M25, and Next Level Ventures. The company has also received non-dilutive funding and grants, including $2 million in low-interest loans from Venture Net.

The Future of Pitchly

Pitchly plans to expand its team by 11 more individuals, specialize roles, implement an entrepreneurial organization system, grow its sales team, release a major upgrade to its code and efficiency, and secure more funding. The company aims to become a profitable business and has no plans to sell or exit the market anytime soon.

With its focus on solving the challenge of data-heavy document creation and its growing user base, Pitchly has earned a prominent spot among the innovative companies that have presented at InvestMidwest. The company's emphasis on automating repetitive tasks and increasing efficiency has made it a trailblazer in the data management and productivity sphere.

Alumni Highlight: Confluence & OxaluRx

published February 24, 2023

In this blog post, we will discuss the success story of Confluence & OxaluRx and their journey to develop an oral therapy to treat genetic hyperoxaluria, a urinary condition.

From Drug Discovery to a Boutique CRO

Confluence Life Sciences, founded by Walter Smith, began in April 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri, as a drug discovery and research company. However, after Pfizer acquired Wyeth, Pfizer moved its research and development (R&D) operations to Boston, Massachusetts, which forced Confluence to seek other options. With the help of Biogenerator and Port, Confluence was able to retain talent and secured a lab in Biogenerator. Confluence quickly established a reputation as a high-quality boutique CRO with a larger staff than a typical VC firm. They took on revenue into drugvresearch and had large pharma clients such as Pfizer and Genetec.

Acleris Acquisition and the Path to Financial Stability

However, despite its early success, Confluence found itself cash-strapped in 2015-2016. That's when Acleris approached Confluence to build a molecule that was fit for purpose, and an acquisition deal followed in 2017. Confluence negotiated terms where if Acleris licensed or sold a product, Confluence would receive a portion of the revenue. This deal gave Confluence $20 million upfront, $100 million later, and royalties and transfer payments.

OxaluRx: Developing a Unique Treatment for a Rare Disease

Today, OxaluRx is the primary focus of Confluence, which is developing an oral therapy to treat genetic hyperoxaluria, a urinary condition. The company secured $6 million in financing and is generating GMP material GLP tox, Phase I, and Phase II clinical trial data. There is currently no approved SiRNA available for this rare disease, which costs around $500,000 a year to treat, so OxaluRx has a unique opportunity to provide a cheaper alternative.

Financing and Expansion

With the goal of rolling success into other funds, Confluence and OxaluRx have been seeking both traditional A approaches and early partnerships, and have been pursuing Chinese partners as well. They have also received funding from biotech accelerators, presentation venues, and Arch Angels.

OxaluRx's 2022 achievements include obtaining patents in the new company and expanding its team. They have also brought on a person in chemistry and manufacturing and added experts in tox and biomarkers in urine.

Lessons Learned: The Importance of Backing and Fundraising Experience

In retrospect, Confluence and OxaluRx learned the importance of having the backing of biotech organizations, such as Biogenerator and RiverVest. They also realized the importance of attracting a person who can call a principal at a VC, which led them to bring in an executive chair with fund-raising experience from San Diego in 2015.

The St. Louis-based company recognizes the difficulty of pharma startups, especially for a company with a unique focus on rare diseases such as OxaluRx. Nevertheless, they have managed to establish themselves in the industry, largely due to their unique approach to drug discovery and their partnership with Acleris.

Success in a Challenging Industry

Confluence and OxaluRx are excellent examples of how companies with innovative approaches and unique goals can find success even in a challenging industry. Their determination, willingness to adapt and dedication to improving the lives of those suffering from rare diseases continue to be a source of inspiration for others in the life sciences industry.

Alumni Highlight: Artio Medical & Euphrates Vascular

published February 15, 2023

Two successful companies, Artio Medical, and Euphrates Vascular have their roots in the entrepreneurial spirit and biochemistry background of Sean Morris. Morris started his career in the medical device industry through sales and eventually went on to become a serial entrepreneur. He is best known as the founder of Veniti, which was later acquired by Boston Scientific.

The Journey of Artio Medical and Euphrates Vascular

In 2018, Morris became the CEO of Artio Medical and continues to play a consultant and board role for Euphrates Vascular, formerly known as Pulse Therapeutics. The company had a pivot prior to becoming Euphrates Vascular and received continued support from OSF Ventures. Morris highlights the importance of networking but mentions that service providers are not always helpful in finding the right match for investors. He believes in building local ecosystems in areas such as St. Louis, Kansas City, and the surrounding areas to bring in capital and connect with the coasts.

Morris also recognizes the significance of successful individuals in helping the community become successful. He mentions the value of super angel groups and organizations such as InvestMidwest, RiverVest, and Biogenerator, in bringing local presence and capital. Morris believes that to be successful, one must communicate and be honest and responsible while tapping resources and aiming for the best possible milestones.

Veniti, Morris' first venture, was a success and sold to Boston Scientific, delivering a good return for investors. He learned from his experience and founded Artio Medical and Euphrates Vascular, which were created through a merger of Pulse Therapeutics and ICHOR Vascular. Morris met the founder, Rogers Ritter, through conversations with vascular surgeons and Ph.D. metallurgists, who helped him identify the unmet need for a better venous stent.

Euphrates Vascular develops medical devices that treat vascular occlusions related to vascular disease using the Magnetically-Enhanced Diffusion system. This system uses patented magnet-based technology to transport iron-oxide MED MicroBeads and clot-busting drugs at a much faster rate, enabling doctors to improve care for stroke and other diseases. In June 2021, the company raised $6 million in funding.

One of the biggest lessons Morris learned was the importance of focus. He mentions how his previous venture Veniti had multiple products, but only one of them reached an exit, wasting time and money on the others. He emphasizes the importance of scrutinizing every dollar raised and proving the market, which can be expensive. Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Euphrates Vascular achieved FDA approval for the treatment of acute ischemic stroke in 2022 and became a stable company.

The Future

For 2023, Morris sees challenges and milestones ahead for Euphrates Vascular, including expanding its platform technology and solving other problems in the medical device industry. The company is in a good spot, and Morris has stepped down from his role as CEO to take on a new challenge.

Morris' background in biochemistry and experience in the medical device industry has enabled him to be a successful entrepreneur and contribute to the success of Artio Medical and Euphrates Vascular. His focus, communication skills, and determination have been key to his success and the success of his companies.

Alumni Highlight: FastDemocracy

published February 7, 2023

We like to check in with our alumni when we can. FastDemocracy co-founders Antolij Gemlison and Sara Baker have taken some time to chat with us about their 2018 startup’s vision and development, and the unique ways FastDemocracy is bringing our nation’s democratic processes closer to home.

An app and website with a bifurcate target consumer base of “politically interested individuals” on the one hand and “government relationship professionals”, on the other, FastDemocracy’s niche offerings are certainly compelling. With a broad mission to “empower political newcomers and professionals to be more informed and effective, while advocating for policy change”, the tech company specializes in organizing and making accessible the seemingly-esoteric reams of policy- and legislature-related information that successful policy work requires.

A “Find Your Legislators” tool is one of the first things you’ll see when you visit the FastDemocracy website, quickly followed by a showcase of their Bill Tracking feature, designed to “help you stay up to date on bills you care about, so you can take timely action." For their Professional market, FastDemocracy offers real-time legislative and hearing alerts, “patent-pending bill similarity detection," a centralized locus for “state press releases," and much more. Noting their growing user base and action-oriented rhetoric, we were eager to discover where FastDemocracy came from, and where they are going.

The co-founders are quick to mention that in the beginning, they lacked some sales know-how. This problem was solved, however, with the humility that growth requires. FastDemocracy used money obtained through grants to “hire sales professionals” and quickly saw the returns after two years of more gradual formation: “Our revenue margins increased from $20,000 to $70,000 in a matter of months." Significant growth was supported by Capital Innovator’s accelerator programs.

FastDemocracy’s reach as a tool is one of its most impressive accomplishments. As Gemlison and Baker put it, the FastDemocracy “government analytic tool and bill tracker” whose basic functions are free for individual, non-organizational users, provides “non-profits, advocacy organizations, and legislators … fast, accurate data that enables them to spend more time advocating."

When asked which accomplishments most illuminated 2022, the co-founders reflected that: a) They continued to grow revenue b) Anitolij, FastDemocracy's “one-man shop developer” innovated “more tools with impressive functionality," and c) Customer feedback proved to be a phenomenal time-saving measure. These factors combined to provide healthy growth and an ever-improving sign-up and conversion rate.

2023 will bring the challenge of maintaining and surpassing the established momentum. The co-founders explained that they want to “keep growing the sales team, but in a consistent manner." Finding and keeping remote employees can be tough, as can the larger environment in which we all now operate: “Being new in a remote world is tricky."

When asked which problems keep the co-founders awake at night, the answer was clear: Fundraising and Continued Growth. Perhaps this is unsurprising when we review the ambitious suite of services FastDemocracy offers its professional user-clients, while still growing a strong sales team to support the vision of its four-person operating core.

Commercialization Snapshots of Alumni Companies from Previous InvestMidwest Venture Conferences.

published December 18, 2022

More than 250 companies have presented at InvestMidwest over the last 22 years. We are talking to these companies to learn how InvestMidwest has helped startups over the and to identify what organizations in our Midwest innovation ecosystems have helped these alumni along their individual pathways to commercialization in addition to InvestMidwest. We have begun our blog series with four ag innovation companies.

Company Overviews

Company: Divergence

Company: 3Bar Biologics

Company: Aker

Company: Plastomics

* Presenter at InvestMidwest

Company History and Updates

Divergence

Problem addressed

Divergence developed a genomics and information technology platform aimed at controlling parasitic nematodes of crops, both agrochemicals and resistant crops.

Technology had applications in human medicine and agriculture.  The agriculture market became the focus.  The platform helped to develop both agricultural chemical approach and modified plant approach for crop resistance.

Status

2000 founded.

2011 successful exit through acquisition by Monsanto 

Founding team

The technology inventor, Jim McCarter, was a young scientist at Washington University.  He wanted to found a company and looked for a CEO with innovation experience to join him.  He found his CEO at Monsanto in Derek Rapp, then Monsanto’s lead for Mergers and Acquisitions.  Derek was attracted by the innovation of Jim’s discoveries and by the commercial opportunities.  Derek led Divergence to a successful exit.

What are founders doing now?

After Divergence’s successful exit, both CEO and inventor have remained active in the St Louis innovation ecosystem.  Derek joined RiverVest Venture Partners in St. Louis focused on life science companies addressing medical needs.  Jim joined Abbott’s Diabetes Care New Analyte Ventures as Medical Director but also serves is a part-time entrepreneur in residence with BioGenerator.

3Bar Biologics

Problem addressed

3Bar Biologics has developed a platform to stabilize and extend the shelf-life of living microbial products and is commercializing beneficial microbes that augment crop nutrition uptake.  Their current business model is to provide contract development and manufacturing services for other microbial products companies.

Status

3Bar has doubled its revenue for the three past years from seed investments of $2.4M, much from Ohio-based groups.  They are currently growing via revenue growth and are seeking capital from outside their immediate region to accelerate growth.  Investment capital would allow 3Bar Biologic to build out larger manufacturing facility and hire additional talent.

Aker Technologies

Problem addressed

Aker is developing automated on farm pest scouting over and under the canopy via drones and machine-learned analytics.

Status

2016 founded. Since founding to automate crop scouting and provide services to agriculture chemical manufacturers to manage field trials, Aker has pivoted to be closer to the path of recommendations to solve something on farm.  Aker is currently pursuing their growth by growing their customer base and revenue.  They have made their user interface easier to use by growers and farm advisors and their platform more easily integrated with other data collection on farm. 

Founding team

Orlando, a software executive, started Aker with Todd Golly, a corn and soy farmer in the Great Lakes region.

Plastomics

Problem addressed

Plastomics aims to enable crop improvement by stacking multiple genes and expressing high levels of transgenic proteins in a single crop variety.  Their platform utilizes chloroplast transformation as an improved method for developing crops with new traits.

Status

2017 founded.

Founding team

The founders all met at Monsanto where they held various roles.

What are founders doing now?

Sharon and Elizabeth have worked together before founding Plastomics and both are now supporting another startup. Sharon is helping  Pluton Biosciences with product development and regulatory strategy, while Elizabeth is serving as Pluton’s current CEO.

How did InvestMidwest help each company?

Divergence

InvestMidwest provided a platform for Derek to network and pitch the vision of Divergence.  Derek presented twice at InvestMidwest once in 2001 in Kansas City where he first met Brian Clevinger, managing director at Prolog Ventures and then again in 2002 where he and Brian continued discussions.  Prolog Ventures later led the first institutional round of investment into Divergence.

3Bar Biologics

As part of their effort to make get noticed and build productive relationships with venture capital firms for additional investment and other microbial product innovative companies for customers, Bruce and Jane presented to InvestMidwest in 2018 where they networked with other microbial products companies for customer development.  

Aker Technologies

By presenting and networking at InvestMidwest, Orlando feels he created greater familiarity for Aker among a group of investors and that this familiarity provided the catalyst to close his round that was led by Lewis and Clark and also included Flyover Capital.

Plastomics

Sharon attended InvestMidwest in 2012 while she was a venture scout for Dow Agrosciences.  When she and her team needed to raise capital for Plastomics, they presented at InvestMidwest to get visibility for Plastomics and to build stronger relationships with the regional investment community.

Meet Our Planning Committee

published December 9, 2022

Sharon A. Berberich

Sharon has over 30 years’ experience in food and agriculture with a focus on executive leadership & strategy, business development, product development, licensing, venture capital investment, regulatory, intellectual property and field operations. She is currently Senior Director of Pipeline Management at Pluton Biosciences, Inc. Background includes Monsanto Company, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Dow AgroSciences and multiple start-ups. Built and led the US Operations for Kaiima Bio Agritech, a subsidiary of an Israeli-based start-up.  Established a consulting business to serve the Ag Tech entrepreneurial community.  Her portfolio included serving as CEO of Plastomics, a plant biotechnology company, CEO for Impetus Agriculture, a start-up focused on biological insect control, and Business Development Lead for Aker Technologies a precision ag start-up as well as multinational companies, academic institutions and other start-up companies as mentor, board member, and business advisor.  She is a distinguished alumni of the University of Missouri-Columbia CAFNR and hold a BS in Biochemistry and Agriculture.

Connie Bowen

Co-Founder/General Partner at Farmhand Ventures

I am volunteering my time and energy to help relaunch the InvestMidwest forum because I see an opportunity for the event to serve as a keystone in connecting underrepresented founders and funders throughout the Midwest region.

Connie is an agrifoodtech investor, currently building and backing companies creating the future of work in specialty crop agriculture at Farmhand Ventures. She got her start in agtech in St. Louis investing with The Yield Lab and leading The Yield Lab Institute, and has continued her exploration of the space through farmland investment at Chess Ag Full Harvest Partners, operations at Farmacopia Farms, and farmer-centric investment and innovation at AgLaunch. She’s also a Venture for America alumn, and Venture Partner at Republic, and active thought-leader in agtech, contributing to Forbes, AgFunder, and others.

Robert Calcatera

I am an early founder of InvestMidwest and have served on its board and as an active volunteer for 25 years. It has been instrumental in defining the entrepreneurial ecosystem of St. Louis and Missouri. Therefore I am dedicated to its evolving to address changing regional needs and success going forward.

Dr. Robert J. Calcaterra is currently a principal in StartUp Partners International LLC that is involved in the start up, structuring, managing, and financing of early stage companies. Between 2009 and now StartUp Partners International has successfully started, organized, and funded numerous companies. Dr. Calcaterra is currently on the board of Moleculara Labs Inc. in Oklahoma City OK.
Through StartUp Partners International Dr. Calcaterra has and is assisting well over 200 companies that have SBIR grants from the USDA, DOE, NOAA NASA, NSF and the NIH. commercialize their technology. He consults or has consulted for many public and private institutions including companies in Nebraska, Kentucky and Arkansas, the USDA, EPA, University of Nebraska Lincoln, University of Iowa Foundation, Chicago State University, University of North Dakota and City of Madison Wisconsin.
Prior to that Dr. Calcaterra founded and was in succession Chief Executive Officer of the Nidus Center for Scientific Enterprise (a Monsanto Company) the Arizona Technology Incubator and Boulder Technology Incubator.
Previously, Dr. Calcaterra worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies including the Adolph Coors Company, Amoco Inc., Alcoa Inc. and Monsanto.
Dr. Calcaterra did his graduate and undergraduate work in chemical engineering at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with BS and MS degrees. He received his D.Sc. in chemical engineering from Washington University of St. Louis.

Andy Dearing

President at Spatial STL Advisors
GeoFutures Initiative Lead

I am donating my time to support the InvestMidest event relaunch because the value that this forum provides in driving regional innovation and opportunities for current and future entrepreneurs and investors are critical to our regional success.

Andy Dearing is a geospatial entrepreneur and is the President of Spatial STL Advisors. Andy currently serves as the lead for the GeoFutures Initiative, an Initiative of Greater St. Louis Inc. GeoFutures serves as the regional strategy for building an inclusive growth strategy to support the development of St. Louis as the premiere global geospatial hub.
Andy also is a General Partner at Cultivation Capital, serving on the venture capital group’s Geospatial Tech Fund. He also serves as an advisor to the Taylor Geospatial Institute, Co-Chair for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s St. Louis Area Working Group,
and serves on several startup and non-profit Boards.
Prior to Spatial STL Advisors, he served as the CEO of Boundless Spatial, a leading startup in the geospatial industry. After moving the headquarters to St. Louis and leading the organization in over 200% growth in a 2 year period, he led the exit of Boundless to Planet Labs, Inc in 2019. Andy has also served in leadership roles at Esri, SAIC, and IMAPS over the past 20 years.
Andy earned his Masters of Business Administration from Maryville University, and holds a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Science and Bachelors of Science in Aviation Management from Saint Louis University.

Jeremy Degenhart

Jeremy Degenhart

Professor of Practice in Finance at Washington University in St. Louis

Jeremy provides entrepreneurs with the flexible, cost-effective financing they need in order to scale their businesses, utilizing private capital and economic development programs including New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC). Since 1992, Advantage Capital has invested more than $1.9 billion in companies at all stages of development from a broad array of industry sectors spanning 23 states.

Alfred Jackson

Missouri is a great place to build a business and career, but the only way we stay competitive with other regions is by investing in the resources that help drive innovation in our state. Invest Midwest is an important key to the long-term growth of our region because capital is a vital aspect to Founders of all stages feeling that they can build and, most importantly, grow here.

Alfred Jackson is an adviser and operator. He's built a career around building leverageable corporate, venture capital, and talent relationships for early-stage startups.  He's led entrepreneur support and investor connections at Arch Grants, was an investor at Atento Capital and Lightship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and most recently led sales and operations for an early-stage workforce marketplace startup. He's also an angel investor through Concrete Rose Capital's Super Angels Program. Alfred has had the opportunity to build his career and adult life in St. Louis, and now that he's moved back, he wants to help bridge the gap between culture and innovation in our community.

Candace Seeve

Director, Laboratory Operations at TechAccel, LLC

InvestMidwest has a long history of being a bringing Midwest entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors together. What better way to spur innovations addressing our significant food and climate challenges than to intentionally gather these groups, and do it all here in the Midwest, the heart of the nation’s agrifood tech industry.

Candace is Director of Laboratory Operations for RNAissance Ag and its parent company, TechAccel, a technology and venture development organization that invests in the development and de-risking of crop protection & improvement, animal health & nutrition, and food safety technologies. Candace specializes in early-stage technology evaluation and leads
RNAissance Ag's R&D and laboratory operations. She received her Ph.D. in Plant Sciences from Texas A&M University.
Candace’s family has been farming in Montana for four generations. Her passion for advancing innovations that address agricultural challenges is rooted in her experiences growing up, and working on the family farm.

Tony Simpson

President / Founder at AgTech Advisors, LLC

InvestMidwest showcases innovations coming from the heart of our country.  By providing a forum for lIfe science, animal health, technology and agriculture entrepreneurs to pitch their company before investors across the value chain, InvestMidwest drives the regional ecosystem and helps bring capital and resources to the next generation of business leaders in these critical industries.  I’m honored to play a small role in helping InvestMidwest achieve this important mission and connect capital to ideas.

Tony Simpson brings more than 25 years of experience leading and investing in companies in agribusiness and animal health. In 2015, Tony founded AgTech Advisors, LLC, a consulting firm focused on supporting entrepreneurs and investors in the agtech sector. Previously, he served as a Managing Director for the Kansas Bioscience Authority where he led the organization’s investment efforts in agtech, animal health and bioenergy, leading investments in companies such as Aratana Therapeutics, Green Dot, SmartVet and Advanced Animal Diagnostics.

Mr. Simpson holds an Economics Degree from Millikin University, an MBA from the Carlson School of Business (University of Minnesota-Minneapolis) and completed the Private Equity and Venture Capital Executive Education Program at Harvard.