Tom Glaser

St. Louis delegation cultivates Israeli agro-tech

The midwestern city is a hotbed of agricultural technology, and some of its top scientists have taken a special interest in Israel
Visitors at a recent agricultural technology show in Israel (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Visitors at a recent agricultural technology show in Israel (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Business, science, and economic development leaders from St. Louis, Missouri are back in Israel this week to participate in an important industry conference and trade show while meeting with a select group of companies and research institutes.  I predict their visit will further this Midwest community’s highly targeted objectives to develop closer economic ties with the Start Up Nation.

Four months ago, I authored a blog about St. Louis’ exciting new focus on Israeli biosciences and agro-tech in particular. In October, the community’s life science economic development organization, BioSTL, announced the establishment of the St. Louis-Israel Innovation Connection (SLIIC) to build a robust pipeline for interaction between the St. Louis and Israeli economies.  A month later, Moshav Sharona-based Kaiima Bio-Agritech announced the establishment of its U.S. headquarters there.  And just two months after that, Rehovot-based Evogene announced plans to invest $10 million to establish its U.S. R&D facility in St. Louis at the BRDG Park.  According to BioSTL’s leadership, a third Israeli company will soon announce that it has selected St. Louis for U.S. operations, thus validating the model they have created to attract Israeli companies.

The St. Louis delegation is led by Vijay Chauhan, project lead of the SLIIC initiative.  Chauhan has significant experience in the entrepreneurial and startup space, having served as CEO of multiple life science companies, and previously was Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the BioGenerator where he worked with over 22 startups to raise capital, develop business plans, and recruit talent.  He is joined on the mission by Sam Fiorello, COO of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center who is also President of the St. Louis Bio-Research & Development Growth Park; Alexander Wiegelmann, Vice President of M&A / Head of Transactions at KWS SAAT AG, a Germany-based agriculture corporation with its U.S. headquarters in St. Louis; Dr. Gal Yarden, Israeli executive at Monsanto who was formerly EVP of Beelogics, a Rehovot start up acquired by this St. Louis-based corporate giant; Deborah Price, Vice President of The Missouri Partnership that offers incentives and support packages to relocating businesses; and Kim Plank, Director of Health Sciences & Services at the St. Louis Regional Chamber, the community’s major business organization.  Uri Attir, former BIRD Foundation and Israeli start up executive, is SLIIC’s in-country representative coordinating the delegation’s schedule.

A top event for the group is Monday’s AgriVest conference in Rehovot organized by Trendlines.  Wiegelmann and Fiorello are program speakers, and the St. Louis team has selected several of the 14 presenting Israeli companies for meetings.  According to Steve Rhodes, Chairman and CEO of The Trendlines Group, “St. Louis occupies a central place in the U.S. agritech ecosystem, and BioSTL and the Danforth Center are key components of that ecosystem.  We are very excited to have the delegation participate in AgriVest – our cooperation with them extends for several years now, and we look forward to deepening the relationship and building an active partnership with them.”

The delegation also has meetings set with selected Israeli start ups participating in the Agritech trade show in Tel Aviv where Sam Fiorello is also a featured speaker.  During the week, the group also plans to meet with the Volcani Center in Beit Dagan, the TerraLabs accelerator in Yokneam (St. Louis’ Partnership community in Israel), the Ramat Negev Research & Development organization, GreenSoil Investments, Ernst & Young, BIRD Foundation, and two prominent law firms as well as visits to Kaiima, Evogene, and Sigma Aldrich’s Israel office.

The mission is an important component of BioSTL’s Israel strategy.  The organization’s CEO Donn Rubin points out that St. Louis’ plant science sector is the right fit for Israeli ag-tech companies.  “We have world-class plant science strengths – the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Monsanto’s world headquarters, and more plant scientists than anywhere in the world. The St. Louis-Israel Innovation Connection recruits Israeli companies that match our community’s strengths and connects them to resources in St. Louis – corporate partners, sources of capital, research infrastructure, and collaborations.  Within nine months, three well-respected Israeli ag-tech companies have committed to establish their U.S. presence in St. Louis.  Something exciting is going on in St. Louis; the culture and strengths of our region help attract compelling companies, and Israel has them in abundance in the plant science sector,” Rubin says.

Don’t be surprised to hear about new business and research relationships between Israel and St. Louis that will emerge from this mission.  Congratulations to BioSTL and its partners in St. Louis and Israel for this significant initiative!

About the Author
Tom Glaser was president of the Southeast Region of the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) from its founding in 1992 until his retirement in October 2013 after almost 22 years of services to the organization. Glaser is a graduate of the University of Michigan. He and his wife Connie, an author and lecturer, live on Skidaway Island near Savannah, Georgia and their 2nd home in the Blue Ridge mountains.
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