Whether Big Ag or Startup Success, AIS Reaps Value for Industry Leaders and Entrepreneurs
Spotlight: Sharon Berberich, Plastomics CEO and Founding AIS Committee Member
In celebration of the 10th annual Ag Innovation Showcase, we at Larta Institute appreciate those that have helped shape it into the premiere agtech event it is today.
One of those special contributors is Sharon Berberich, CEO of the Ag technology startup Plastomics. Sharon has been a longstanding innovator and a force behind-the-scenes; this year marks her 10th year of involvement with the showcase, and her first as a company presenter. A longtime veteran of the show, who initially attended as a representative of Dow Agrosciences and Kaiim BioAgritech before starting her own agtech company, Sharon brings a unique perspective on how Ag Showcase helps bring together the diversity of voices within the ag space.
“Ag Innovation Showcase is, by far, the most engaging, international, high-caliber, well run and well organized conference of all that I have attended ,” she says. “I come back to the Showcase every year, and there is never a boring moment.”
At the first annual Ag Innovation Showcase in 2009, Sharon presented an early-stage genome editing platform technology as a representative of Dow AgroSciences. It was, in her mind, a rare opportunity to convene as an industry around transformative technologies just beginning to impact the ag space, including big data, automation, AI, and genomics.
“The committee originally set out to make the showcase the premiere agriculture and technology event, because ten years ago, there weren’t many of those available to agtech startups,” she recalls, citing both the exposure startup tech companies can receive to their innovations, and the opportunities large companies can find in identifying trends and building investments and other relationships.
“When I was at Dow, I was involved in business development, technology scouting, and VC investment, and I would go to AIS to find new and innovative technologies that would be strategic investments, and to forge collaborations with up and coming companies. This year, I’m on the other side of the fence; I’m hoping the people at big companies, like Corteve (the new Dow Agrosciences) will want to hear me present, collaborate with us, and invest in Plastomics. I was a speaker at the first Showcase, and I am thrilled to be a speaker at the 10th anniversary event.”
Sharon is not only an Ag Showcase stalwart, but a fixture in the St. Louis agtech startup scene. She describes the region as both a hub for growth in the industry, and a valuable nexus where industry leaders can interact with a broad spectrum of innovation.
“I worked at Monsanto for 18 years, and then joined the startup world in St. Louis. I was working with a plant-made pharmaceutical company and collaborating with other ag startups. When the Ag Showcase first came about, I was working for Dow, who was interested in Ag start-ups – the Showcase was one of the first venues where you could find investors, entrepreneurs, and strategics all in one place. The Showcase inspired me to move back to the start-up scene in St. Louis after Dow.”
When she was involved with a startup 15 years ago in St. Louis, Sharon says that there was no infrastructure for growth. “Today, there is a strong support system for young startups, and AIS has really been embraced by this community. Bigger companies, such as Bayer, Nestle, and Bunge participate and get involved with the showcase even though it is solely based in agtech. I love how involved the Ag Innovation Showcase is with the St. Louis community.”
Looking forward, Sharon plans to rely on this community to help grow her new startup, Plastomics. Plastomics is based on technology developed by Sharon and her former colleagues at Monsanto in the late 1990’s.
“Our five key management players at Plastomics have known each other for decades. The technology we use for our platform has brought us back together, we have always had it in common, and we have been wanting to commercialize it for many years. Plastomics is still very young, in fact, we issued our first announcement at AIS 2017, marking an investment from Biogenerator and Yield Lab,” she says.
At this year’s showcase, Sharon hopes to get Plastomics’ technology, which delivers specialized traits to the chloroplasts of plant cells, such as insect control with RNAi, in front of potential investors and collaborators. In her company presentation, Sharon will outline the of benefits of delivering traits to the chloroplast instead of the nucleus of each cell, and emphasize the ways in which this technology will benefit customers along the food value chain.
“The networking at Ag Showcase is the best networking venue I have ever been to. Plastomics was so young and new last year, and we were fortunate enough to meet a big strategic agriculture company who recently asked to collaborate with us. I met them at 2016 before Plastomics, and then met as Plastomics in 2017, and hope to collaborate with them in 2018. The power of the network at the Showcase is fantastic, and today it reaches an international level.”
This year, Sharon looks forward to the Dr. Khan’s keynote, which will incorporate the consumer view like the Ag Innovation Showcase never has before, and attract a “new and exciting audience,” she says.
“I make sure to never miss the companies that pitch, I really like to see what entrepreneurs are doing in the space today – that is the heart and soul of this conference.”
Sharon’s story of growth, expertise, and innovation exemplifies the spirit of Ag Innovation Showcase, and her longstanding involvement with the community deserves recognition. Please join us at AIS this year in St. Louis to see Plastomics present alongside other entrepreneurs innovating in the agtech space.