miércoles, 8 de junio de 2016

How FARM Illinois Wants to Make the State a Hub for Agriculture Innovation

year after its creation, FARM Illinois is in the early stages of identifying how to advance its plan to make Illinois and Chicago leaders in the global food and agriculture industries.
FARM Illinois (Food and Agriculture RoadMap for Illinois) was launched in May 2015 by an association of leaders and stakeholders in the food and agriculture industries.
The plan analyzes the state’s current food and agriculture system and gives recommendations on how Illinois and Chicago can become global leaders in these industries by setting the standard. It suggests that the state build on its already impressive assets — according to their report, Illinois has 27 million acres of farmland, and exported $8.1 billion in agricultural products in 2014. Six key goals are outlined, including a need for leadership in innovation. Chicago is highlighted as having the potential to become “the epicenter for global food and agriculture system innovation.”
FARM Illinois says it wants to help foster innovation from startup incubators, research institutions, universities, and more.
According to Lee Strom and Tyler Strom, the father-and-son-duo serving as the chief executive officer and the managing director of FARM Illinois, respectively, they are in the process of identifying the first initiatives the organizations plans to tackle.
“While we are currently in a process of identification, we have not settled on any particular company or project at this point yet, although I can tell you that they will be broad-ranging, and will encompass many sectors,” said Lee Strom.
The two spent much of the past year traveling across the state to meetings where they presented their findings and recommendations and received feedback. From these conversations, they said they found that the current state of agriculture and food technology innovation is promising.
“There’s certainly a lot of activity,” said Tyler Strom. “It’s almost difficult to keep up with all the activity that’s happening in this space.”
According to a 2015 report by AgFunder, agtech funding reached $4.6 billion in 2015, almost doubling the previous year’s investment of $2.36 billion.
But Lee and Tyler Strom acknowledged that there are funding challenges and other issues the industry faces, especially in Illinois. 
A greenhouse at Living Water Farms in...
But even still, FARM Illinois argues that Chicago can compete by being a transportation hub, a growing hub for a younger population, and “a global magnet for world-class businesses, institutions, and universities.” 
Another challenge, which served as one of the motivations for creating FARM Illinois, is the disconnect between the interests of Chicago and the rest of the state -- specifically, between the interests of urban and rural residents, businesses, and policymakers. The roadmap states that these differing interests have resulted in a lack of collaboration.
But this is an area where Lee and Tyler Strom said they have already seen success, going off the bipartisan and diverse interest they’ve gathered around the state.
“We have leadership both on the Republican side and the Democrat side, from the mayor’s office of Chicago to the state leadership in Springfield, involved with this,” Lee Strom said. 
Currently, FARM Illinois is supported financially by private businesses, foundations, and other organizations, with lead funding provided by the Searle Funds at the Chicago Community Trust.
Moving forward, Tyler Strom said they will continue to secure funding and solidify the organization’s structure. They also plan to host a Global Food and Agriculture Symposium in Chicago in 2018.
“FARM Illinois sees itself as a convener and catalyst of new and innovative ideas, but we also see ourselves as a champion,” Tyler Strom said. “We want to champion the food and agtech startup scene, and we really see them as a great catalyst for moving forward very innovative advancements in the food and ag sector.”

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