Growing Food Entrepreneurs in the Sacramento Region
Woodland’s AgStart incubator scales up and helps to implement the Prosperity Strategy recipe
February 26, 2021: Woodland’s AgStart startup incubator is on the verge of having more wet labs than anywhere else in the Sacramento region. In April, the Raley’s Food Lab will join the Yocha Dehe Lab in the Lab@AgStart, making it the largest wet-lab incubator facility in the state of California with an agriculture and food focus.
AgStart is a non-profit agriculturally-focused incubator that has been in Woodland for nine years and is about to move into a new facility in the Woodland Corporate Center, a Class A office space on Woodland’s Main Street. It is supported by both commercial and government sponsorship, including from Yolo County and the City of Woodland.
Woodland Mayor Tom Stallard, a longtime SACOG board member, toured the new facility this week and came away impressed. He described the intersection of agriculture, food, and research the “sweet spot” for the region. “We have a lot of hungry people in the world and there will always be a huge demand for food and agriculture.”
Woodland is surrounded by class 1 soils, enjoys an ideal growing climate, and is just minutes from a world-leading agricultural research institution in UC Davis, said Stallard. The importance of an agricultural incubator in the town is that it helps retain the benefits of those factors for the region. “Lots of talented, bright people leave UC Davis. They have to follow the money, follow opportunity,” said Stallard. If they continue their research at UC Davis, UC owns their work. And if they take their insights and research to another university, their potential is lost to the region. But by trying to commercialize their research and insights through AgStart, it makes it more likely that new companies can stay in the Sacramento region.
The research/startup/talent retention process that Stallard described is a key plank in the regional Prosperity Strategy, which calls on the region to be a global leader for entrepreneurs, firms and workforce in three key clusters: food, ag and health innovation; life sciences; and future mobility. And among the short-term initiatives in that plank are to:
Expand wet-lab space across the region, including rural and suburban locations.
Support scale-up for food manufacturing companies, including co-packing and co-production facilities, shared logistics, support services and equipment testing.
Support food system infrastructure projects such as technology parks, food hubs, incubators, and accelerators including to leverage the buying power of institutional procurement and to support “next gen” food entrepreneurs.
Woodland is already well-positioned in that cluster, said Stallard, pointing to notable food processors such as PGP International, which produces the puffed rice in Clif bars (and many other bars), and Pacific Coast Producers, one of the largest tomato processors in the world.
In a release about the new developments at AgStart, Program Director Leanna Sweha said, “A unique advantage of our facility is that entrepreneurs can prepare a new combination of ingredients and cooking techniques in the Raley’s Food Lab, and then immediately take their creation into the Yocha Dehe Lab to assess it for nutrient content and other health attributes.”
“Our region has struggled with a lack of laboratory capacity to support emerging companies pursuing science-based innovations,” explained Michael Teel, chief visionary officer of Raley’s and head of the Greater Sacramento Area Economic Council’s Food and Agriculture Innovation Council. “Expanding our region’s capacity to support science-based Food and Ag technology innovation strengthens our region’s leadership as an Ag | Food | Health innovation hub.”