Thad Simons has gone from being president and CEO of Novus International, a company doing $1 billion in sales, to helping gardens and animals grow.
OK, it’s not quite that simple.
Simons, along with his other managing directors, Jeff Peterson and Tom Adamitis, have started The Yield Lab, an accelerator which provides new AgTech companies $100,000 in funding, mentors and is supported by businesses and organizations in the St. Louis area.
He believes his network of contacts built up while working at Novus and his current post as board president for the International Food and Agribusiness Association will be beneficial to the emerging companies, providing needed resources and connections.
Going from a corporate environment to an accelerator may have its challenges, but Simons appreciates one thing: “You think about how hard it was to make small differences with a lot of resources. Here, with small resources, you can make a big difference.”
The Midwest and St. Louis have started to realize the importance of AgTech, Simons says, and he thinks the region could become the Silicon Valley of the industry. He added the program has generated a lot of interest — 100 companies have applied and four to eight have received funding and help.
One of the key goals is to get more venture capitalists interested in in AgTech arena.
Still a mystery to most venture capitalists, Simons’ goal is to have investors understand AgTech’s value.
“Our job is to create something that is successful, of course, but the success is not just the financial success,” Simons says. “It’s also to develop that model for investment.”
Simons says besides support and access to major industry players, there is no standard contract or set equity percentage for the companies they get funded. Instead it will be tailored to each of the companies’ needs.
Companies receiving Yield Lab’ help are not starting at ground zero.
“We’re not going to just pick someone off the street with a good idea and say we’re going to build a team around you,” Simons says. “We’re not investing at that point. That’s too early for us.”
Canada has been ahead of the U.S. in the AgTech area because of strong government support, Simons says, noting that support in the U.S. comes mostly from the private sector.
He has not had a lot of direct contact yet with the AgTech companies vying for funding, but Simons likes their entrepreneurial spirit.
“I can really feel the energy and enthusiasm around the companies,” he says.