The global demand for food is rapidly rising and becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. By 2050, the world population is expected to reach 9.7 billion and food demand is supposed to increase anywhere between 58% and 98%. There is substantial confusion and uncertainty surrounding the world’s ability to meet these growing demands.
A number of factors have led to the anticipated global food shortage. The first and most prominent factor is the growing population, which, due to advancements in science and medicine, has more than quadrupled over the last century. Effects from climate change have also resulted in less water and arable land, which has damaged agriculture in many of the world’s poorest regions and has forced an increasing number of farmers to seek jobs in urban areas.
Several organizations have emerged to help remedy the causes of global food shortage. One of them is TechAccel, a technology and venture development company based in Kansas City.
TechAccel focuses on investing in disruptive technologies that produce the greatest impact in addressing global food needs.
The University Network (TUN) spoke with Michael Helmstetter, President and CEO of TechAccel, to gain further insight on the purpose and impact of this company.
“TechAccel’s business model calls for identifying and investing in new technology, and then funding science advancement with leading research universities to drive new innovations to market,” Helmstetter told TUN. “TechAccel acts as a venture firm AND as an R&D manager conducting advancement and de-risking research to drive technologies to commercialization. Nowhere else are these two coupled investments delivered by a single firm.”
TechAccel is currently working on five equity investments and engaged science advancement projects with University of California–Davis, Kansas State University, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, and a growing list of other research universities in the U.S. and internationally. These projects are geared to solve multiple agriculture and animal health issues, including enzyme production in plants, gene editing tools, cloud biology, epigenetic crop enhancements, RNA interference for pest control, novel food safety approaches, and animal vaccines.
In the partnership with UC Davis, TechAccel is investing up to $400,000 in the UC Davis STAIR-Plus™ Program. This program provides funding to UC Davis researchers for translational science and innovative research surrounding animal health and food science.
TechAccel has also committed to provide an initial amount of up to $250,000 in grants to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a St. Louis-based not-for-profit research institute. This money will go towards translating agricultural research to real-life products and solutions.
“With these relationships, TechAccel leverages subject matter experts, funds research and economic development in the academic setting, and licenses IP and innovations nurtured in higher education,” explained Helmstetter. “These universities perform science advancement work under contract with TechAccel, supporting and extending ag tech innovations.”
The company’s scientific advancement projects are deployed to enact new ideas into pre-existing markets. “For example, one firm identified a line of rice plants that can thrive in a high salinity environment,” said Helmstetter. “Our research is examining the application of this trait into other crops.”
In another project, TechAccel invested in Agrivida Inc., which developed a method using corn as a manufacturer of enzymes to create more nutritious animal feed. TechAccel is working to expand the application of this technology in other plants to create nutritious products suitable for other animals.
Helmstetter also told TUN that TechAccel has also invested in Epicrop Technologies Inc., a company that uses epigenetics to improve crop yields. “While the company is focused on its initial target crops, TechAccel is funding science advancement to deploy the technology in two additional crops,” Helmstetter added.
As the glooming threats of hunger have become more serious, so has TechAccel. When the company was founded in 2014, it only had a staff of four. Since then, the company has grown to a team of 14. Five of the employees have Ph.D.s in agriculture science or other related fields. TechAccel also hired a Chief Science Officer and added an office in St. Louis to complement its Kansas City headquarters.
“With an expanding world population and a middle class that’s expected to double by 2030, innovation will be required to meet food demands,” said Helmstetter. The answer to the global food shortage can be found through scientific and technological advancements enabled through companies like TechAccel and their collaboration with research universities.
“K-State and TechAccel have proven to be powerful collaborators in identifying innovations in agriculture and advancing them toward market,” Richard Myers, President of Kansas State University and a member of the TechAccel board of directors, told the Business Wire. “K-State has depth of ag expertise that aligns beautifully with TechAccel’s investment capital and research management. We share the common goal of advancing agriculture and animal health tech innovations.”