Kyle Dolan

Head of Science & Innovation, BCG Chicago

Guest blogger for Science and Innovation Network USA

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

16th October 2018 Science Innovation USA

Agri-Tech mission to St Louis puts UK innovation on the world stage

The #UKAgInno2018 delegation at the iconic Gateway Arch in St Louis. Photo credit: Mark Sutherland

A SIN-sponsored delegation travelled from the UK to St Louis, Missouri last month (8-12 September) to promote British innovation in agricultural technologies to a global audience at the Ag Innovation Showcase. The mission, led by SIN Chicago with organisational support from DIT Chicago and the UK Honorary Consul for Missouri, created new connections for UK companies and research centres to international partners which could increase foreign investment in the UK, open new markets for British technology, and help grow the UK as a global base for agri-food innovation.

The UK has a reputation for excellence in agricultural research backed by a strong public commitment to investment in science. About £400m of funding is delivered annually to help researchers make new discoveries in agriculture-related fields. In recent years, Government has taken steps to support the pipeline that turns these discoveries into goods and services that help the agri-food sector. Through the 2013 Agri-Tech Strategy, Government delivered £90m to establish the four Agri-Tech Centres as a means to harness academic expertise for the benefit of the agri-food industry and to create new innovation infrastructure across the country; as well as £70m in Catalyst funding to accelerate commercialisation of research. More recently, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund has launched the £90m Transforming Food Production Challenge, which seeks to further expand the UK’s food productivity through application of robotics, AI and earth observation.

To tell the story of the UK’s growth as an innovation hub for agriculture, SIN Chicago worked with the Larta Institute, a US-based non-profit focussed on innovation and entrepreneurship, to arrange a sponsorship of the 2018 Ag Innovation Showcase. The Showcase is the longest-running agri-tech investment and technology summit of its kind in the United States and draws scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs, and investors from around the world. The sponsorship package allowed SIN to design a high-visibility platform for the UK including a 90-minute speaking session, exhibit tables, and GREAT branding on Showcase materials.

The delegation from the UK included representatives from the DIT Agri-Tech Organisation; the Agri-Tech Centres; Rothamsted Research; and two SMEs: Dynium Robot and Smartbell. At the presentation on the first morning of the Showcase, the delegates took turns to speak about agri-tech innovation in the UK, from the national landscape for business and innovation, to the unique role of the Centres, to excellence in science and industry partnership opportunities at Rothamsted. Dynium Robot and Smartbell pitched for investors in the room, highlighting their technology assets while also weaving further strands to the story of how they had benefitted from the UK’s innovation climate through partnerships and funding support. A robust audience Q&A with the delegates followed.

The session creating interest in the UK offer and stimulated further engagement between the delegation and Showcase attendees through the rest of the Showcase. Our exhibit table (strategically located near the coffee bar!) was a frequent stopping point for visitors. A live-tweeting campaign featuring the hashtag #UKAgInno2018—with each tweet replayed on large-screen TVs throughout the venue—picked up over 23,000 impressions and 650 engagements.

Spending four days in St Louis also allowed the delegation to learn about the city’s own evolution as an agri-tech hub. St Louis is regarded as one of the leading American cities for agricultural technology, particularly in plant sciences: it claims to be home to over 1000 workers holding a PhD in plant sciences—the largest such concentration in the world—who are engaged at companies such as Bayer Crop Science (formerly Monsanto) and institutes such as the Donald Danforth Plant Science Centre. Through a partnership between the local government, business, and academia, St Louis has become a hotbed of entrepreneurship activity in agri-tech, with companies from around the world arriving to seek investment and leverage the unique resources and skills base in the region. Working with the UK Honorary Consul for Missouri, SIN arranged for the delegation to participate in a half-day exploration and networking event called ‘STL Ag Experience’, which featuring talks and panel discussions from the leaders of St Louis’s agri-tech innovation expansion as well as from international companies (including UK food company AB Mauri) that have used St Louis as a soft landing into North America.

The STL Ag Experience reception at the historic Missouri Botanical Garden. Photo credit: Kyle Dolan
Touring the Danforth Plant Science Centre. Photo credit: Kyle Dolan

In the month since the event, we’ve heard lots of positive feedback from the delegates. People that we met in St Louis have already travelled to the UK for follow-up meetings which we hope will yield new collaborations and opportunities for business partnerships. The SIN and DIT teams in Chicago are already discussing organising another event around next year’s Showcase. If you are a company, university, or R&D centre interested in getting involved, we would love to hear from you! We are looking forward to supporting partnerships that speed the way for new technologies to help farmers and food producers sustainably meet the dietary needs of a growing global population.

For more information about the Ag Innovation Showcase or opportunities to participate in a future event, please contact Kyle Dolan, SIN Chicago ( or Julianne Cox, DIT Chicago (

About Science and Innovation Network USA

This blog showcases the work of the UK Science and Innovation Network in the United States. SIN officers work with the local science and innovation community in support of UK…

This blog showcases the work of the UK Science and Innovation Network in the United States. SIN officers work with the local science and innovation community in support of UK policy overseas, leading to mutual benefits to the UK and the USA.

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