THE WGCIT TURNS 5: A Look Back At Its First Years

By Stephanie Metzinger I t’s been nearly five years since Western Growers shook the future of farming as it set out to open one of the first agricultural technology centers in the United States. December 10, 2015, marked an important moment in agtech history as the Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) became the only technology center in Monterey County aimed at bringing innovative entrepreneurs together with farmers to facilitate creative solutions to the biggest challenges facing agriculture. “Salinas is the salad bowl of the United States, and its proximity to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area makes the region ideal for cross-pollination between the ag and tech sectors,” said Tom Nassif, former president and CEO of Western Growers. Nassif launched the Center under his regime. “This city provides, both figuratively and literally, the fertile ground technology companies need to connect with farmers

and perfect their innovative solutions to the biggest challenges facing the ag industry,” Nassif said at the time. Since first opening its doors with just six start-up companies, the WGCIT has housed more than 75 companies all striving to develop cutting-edge technologies that will benefit fresh produce farmers and the specialty crop industry as a whole. Today, the center houses 50 companies working on everything from mechanization and irrigation management to food traceability and precision agriculture. “We are so much more than just an incubator and accelerator,” said Dennis Donohue, director of the WGCIT. “Being a tech center, we are in the unique position of representing a cross-collection of folks—those who build the technology, invest in the technology and ultimately buy the technology.” Over the past five years, the WGCIT has ushered in a new, more intimate

agtech experience and has arrived at the point where it has become a recognized international leader in specialty crop innovation and technology. Below tracks the evolution of the WGCIT. 2015 Grand Opening: The WGCIT officially opened its doors, providing start-up companies with access to hot desks/ work stations, amenities of a traditional office and regular programming— classes, workshops and networking events—designed to provide them with the business knowledge and customer relationships they need to successfully bring their technologies to market. Forbes AgTech Summit: Forbes Media hosted its first AgTech Summit in Salinas Valley, where Western Growers was a strategic partner and has been every year since. The summit, which features the WG Innovation Showcase, was among the first efforts in WG’s major initiative to speed innovation that solves problems for our members. 2016 WGCIT Scholarship Program: With funding from Wells Fargo, the Western Growers Foundation established a scholarship fund for agtech startups. The WGCIT Scholarship Program is arguably the first scholarship program of its kind providing the winner with residence at one of the country’s premier agtech incubators. To date, 20 scholarships have been awarded. 2017 First Exit: Trace Genomics becomes the first startup to successfully exit out of the WGCIT, launching the first scalable soil microbiome test to enable the early prediction of soil diseases, soil health and crop quality. They were followed by

WGCIT launched AgTechx to bring technologies to key agriculture production areas.


MAY | JUNE 2020

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