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Global connections help drive Australian agrifood tech innovation

In a captivating discussion at AgriFutures evokeAG. 2024, international panellists, Peter Wren-Hilton and Rebecca Robinson together with Harriet Mellish, explored how AgriFutures growAG. is helping ignite global connections and the value of partnering with Australia.

“We've got a thriving Australian ecosystem – but we can’t do this alone – we know there's tremendous opportunity in partnering and collaborating globally, and we see AgriFutures growAG. playing a unique role in that,” explained Harriet Mellish, General Manager of Global Innovation Networks, AgriFutures Australia. 
Since launch in April 2021, AgriFutures growAG. has rapidly evolved into a global innovation hub, with over 3,000 research projects, 400 organisations, and 126 live opportunities, drawing nearly 10,000 users monthly, of which 50% are international.  
With users from 215 countries and 21 countries represented at evokeAG. 2024 highlighting international interest in Australia, growAG. is certainly demonstrating its global reach, bolstered by a highly engaged agrifood tech community.

evokeAG. panellist, Rebecca Robinson, President and CEO of Kansas State University Innovation Partners, is one of growAG.’s international users harnessing its “horsepower” to help raise the university’s profile in the Australian and New Zealand market, and globally to facilitate connections, and build partnerships.  
“We began to leverage the growAG. platform and the team – since attending evokeAG. 2023 – to make ourselves more known to potential partners, both for research, collaboration and for companies in the US, as well as Australia and New Zealand, to look at us as a potential partner to solve agricultural challenges, as well as create a robust innovation ecosystem globally,” Rebecca explained.  
K-State Innovation Partners, protects and manages Kansas State University’s intellectual property to enable commercialisation through licensing, and company formations.  
Learn more about their current licensing opportunities, via AgriFutures growAG., here: 
1. Method for improved yield during heat stress period - licensing 
2. Novel method of broad-spectrum resistance to multiple viruses in plants - licensing  

Harriet Mellish, GM of Global Innovation Networks, facilitating the growing global panel discussion at evokeᴬᴳ⋅ 2024. Joined by, Rebecca Robinson, CEO of Kansas State Innovation Partners and Peter Wren-Hilton, CEO and Founder of Wharf 42.

Global challenges open the door for agri innovation

Despite the challenge of time zones, Rebecca emphasised Australia's attractiveness for collaboration with the US due to shared challenges, cultural alignment, and a vibrant agricultural market.  
“We immediately gravitated to the Australian agricultural market, because there were so many shared challenges, like biosecurity and biodefense, to how we handle changing climates, increasing productivity and profitability for our state, our country, and particularly for our growers.”  
There was a clear interest and mutual benefits in partnering with growAG. and the Australian market, Rebecca explained, that’s proven to be an “extremely productive partner”.  
But it’s not their first rodeo.  
“Kansas State University has a long history of collaborating with Australians, particularly in the research environment around agriculture. We were the first US institution to join the Australian-American Fulbright Commission – so we've been exchanging researchers in agricultural and life sciences for decades now,” Rebecca said.  

Pictured: Engagement Manager, David Lord and Rebecca Robinson connecting at evokeᴬᴳ⋅ 2024.

Fellow panellist, Peter Wren-Hilton, the Founder and CEO of Wharf42, an agritech consultancy service; and Director of Platform10, a global biologicals initiative; based in New Zealand, agreed growAG. is helping drive engagement and nurture a greater openness towards collaboration.  
“Research Development Corporations (RDCs) are now more open to having people outside their organisations to understand the type of research they're undertaking, that’s leading to more commercial deals, and more investments,” he said.  
“That’s one of the reasons there's more international interest, because it's a lot easier now to navigate the Australian ecosystem.  

“Five years ago, it wasn't so and I think growAG. has been transformative in the way that it's changed people's perceptions as to how you can access and learn more about what's taking place in Australia,” said Peter. 

The ‘Trans-Tasman force’, and attracting investors

As a renowned agritech collaborator and investor, Peter spends much of his time (six months in 2023) offshore showcasing the collective strength of the Trans-Tasman region, and believes, “growAG. has exponentially increased the visibility of Australia's wider agritech ecosystem in the last three years.” 
Through discussions with Western Growers, an association representing over 50% of North America’s fresh produce and its growers, Peter has identified ripe opportunities for cross-collaboration within the cropping biologicals space, using Platform10, which emerged from the 2023 Salinas Biological Summit
“There’s a clear move from regulators and consumers for less chemistry, and more biologicals, so we're looking at how Australia, New Zealand and California can begin to collaborate more proactively,” he said.  
“This is a great example of how we can attract global investors, partners and researchers to Australia and New Zealand, because together we make a formidable Trans-Tasman force.” 
Recent Trans-Tasman collaborations include, New Zealand's Plant and Food Research interest in sharing opportunities on growAG. to drive regional impact.  

A large strawberry cropping facility in Australia.

Tasmania presents fertile testing bed to boost global berry production

In a promising research trial, Driscolls, the world’s largest berry company, and its strawberry growers in Tasmania and the UK, together with Western Growers in California, aim to unlock learnings by capitalising on counter-seasonal dual hemisphere opportunities to overcome berry production challenges. 
“Rather than doing one set of trials a year on a single crop because Driscolls is operating across seasons, they can run two trials across crops per season, which speeds up the whole R&D process,” said Peter.   
He emphasised the importance of this venture and why Western Growers is enthusiastic to visit and learn from Tasmania, and collaborate further.  

Fresh strawberries produced in Australia

The concierge service: growAG.’s unique asset to drive global value

Both Rebecca and Peter praised growAG.'s concierge service for its role in facilitating targeted connections, and refining opportunities to achieve optimal impact. 
“The concierge is really important and makes growAG. truly unique. It's not just a Google search engine, it goes way beyond that, and offers users real value,” Peter explained. 
Rebecca agreed the concierge experience had been “incredibly invaluable” in garnering high visibility for K-State’s licensing opportunities, and making connections, which have led to important discussions.  
“The growAG. team helped us to hone K-State’s opportunity to ensure it was mutually beneficial, and clear enough to get the right partners,” she explained. 

Harriet Mellish on screen at evokeᴬᴳ⋅ 2024, while facilitating the growing global panel discussion.

“It felt like a one-to-one connection for the right kinds of people in the ecosystem. With a global audience, it can be overwhelming to know, ‘How do I make sure I find the half a dozen people that can actually engage with my opportunity?’”  
Harriet Mellish agreed, “growAG. is not just a digital platform; it’s a dedicated concierge team supporting global connections, enabling 1,500 connections, leading to over 200 early-stage discussions, 66 negotiations, and 21 deals made to date.”  
Of the 126 opportunities featured on growAG. at the time of evokeAG. 2024, 20 of those were available in person with the concierge team enabling live connections for interested eventgoers, that proved highly successful.  

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