Partnering with Techstars and Ecolab, ag giant Cargill returns to tech investing

The world’s largest private agricultural company, Cargill, is returning to tech investment alongside the environmental treatment company Ecolab and Techstars to launch a new accelerator program in Minnesota.

It’s been about two years since the agricultural giant Cargill wound down its private equity, hedge fund and venture capital operations with the spin out of its Black River Asset Management subsidiary.

In that time the company launched an internal strategy called Cargill Digital Labs to work on applying information technology to the whole “farm to fork” supply chain.

Now the company is casting its eye beyond in-house development to invest in technology companies in the food and agriculture space as a backer of Techstars’ newest accelerator program.

The move into investment comes at a time when venture capital is more focused than it has ever been on opportunities in the food supply chain.

Venture firms have spun up to invest in food and ag deals and companies like Farmers Business Network can raise over $100 million to support local farming operations.

“We’re investing in technology internally and externally this really helps us create more space around innovation and innovation for technology with a purpose,” said Cargill chief information officer Justin Kershaw. “This is going to inject some more energy into our external innovation space creating.”

In Cargill, Techstars has found a powerful partner for their new accelerator program, which will look to work with 10 startups per-year for the next three years, Kershaw said.

“We’re one of the few — if not the only company — that’s in every aspect of the food system: animal nutrition, farming, supply chain, and commodities trading,” Kershaw said.

Neither Cargill, Ecolab, nor Techstars would comment on the size of the capital commitment that would be made to each company — or to the three year investment program, according to a statement.

Internally, Cargill’s technology development has run the gamut from sensors for shrimp farms to improve their efficiency to blockchain technology so buyers could know the provenance of their thanksgiving turkeys before they made their way to the dinner table.

This will be the second Minneapolis-based accelerator program for Brett Bohl, who worked as an entrepreneur in residence at Techstars’ retail accelerator run in conjunction with Target, before being named Managing Director of this “Farm to Fork” program.

” As the name implies, we’re looking for the best entrepreneurs across the entire food value chain, from AgTech, manufacturing and supply chains, to food safety, waste reduction and traceability,” Bohl wrote in a blog post announcing the program earlier today.

“Choosing the Twin Cities location was strategic. Minnesota was built by food and agriculture innovators over 150 years ago along the banks of the Mississippi and it continues to be a thriving, supportive place to build a company. Today we house many of the largest food and ag companies in the world, a renowned land grant university and an ecosystem full of top talent that specializes in this vertical,” according to Bohl.


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