BioGenerator, the investment arm of local innovation hub BioSTL, is looking to sprout growth in its Grants to Business program by placing an increasing focus on helping agtech startups win non-dilutive funding.
Founded in 2015, BioGenerator’s Grants to Business program helps guide St. Louis entrepreneurs through the application process of Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants, seeking to provide funding for startups to de-risk their technology and accelerate their growth.
The program has helped St. Louis startups snag more than $75 million in grants, the lion’s share of which has been awarded to biotechnology and health care startups.
“We went for the biggest pot of money first, which was clearly the National Institutes of Health. That was an excellent match with our super strong medical schools, particularly Wash U. Once we proved the principle there, we’re expanding that principle to other pots of money,” said Harry Arader, director of the Grants to Business program.
Arader and entrepreneur-in-residence Martha Schlicher are spearheading the program's growing focus on the agriculture and food technology sector. Schlicher, who previously held leadership roles at Monsanto and Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, joined BioGenerator earlier this year in a role focused on developing new agtech companies and expanding the organization’s non-dilutive programs in the agriculture sector.
The pair sees opportunity to win funding from several federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture; Department of Defense: Department of Energy; and the National Science Foundation. BioGenerator also see funding opportunities from agricultural commodity boards and nonprofit groups.
“We’re going after all sorts of non-dilutive funding. We’re just needing to be novel about how we find it as far as agriculture is concerned,” Arader said.
Grants to Business aims to institutionalize the approach to winning federal grants, and includes hands-on assistance for entrepreneurs such as one-on-one mentorship, consulting and mock panels that review applications. That same strategy will be used for agtech startups seeking federal funding, Arader said. The approach to applications may need to be tinkered some for grants from commodity boards and nonprofits depending on the award and the funding organization, Schlicher said.
Grants to Business has started small with its approach to agtech, with Ardaer saying it plans to ramp its focus on the sector as quickly as possible. The program isn’t a complete stranger to the agtech sector. It has previous success in helping startups in that sector win federal funding. For example, local agtech startup Plastomics recently won a National Science Foundation grant help from BioGenerator.
While Grants to Business aims to help companies snag funding, Schlicher said the program’s increasing agtech focus will also play a key role in putting more emphasis on agtech grants aimed at advancing commercialization and assisting with company formation.
“What we’re really interested in having is a really successful startup community in the region,” she said.