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Some see Sacramento region as agriculture’s Silicon Valley

posted Feb 8, 2015, 12:38 PM by John Selep
February 8, 2015;  Edward Ortiz, Sacramento Bee

When it comes to attracting venture capital from the Silicon Valley, the Sacramento region has had limited success over the decades. But that may be changing as investors increasingly focus on food.

Millions of dollars have flowed east in the past year into food technology startups working in the Sacramento region and the Central Valley, said people involved in the effort to establish Sacramento as a hub for food research and policy. At the same time, UC Davis is pursuing plans to build a World Food Center in Sacramento, perhaps in the downtown railyard. That center is envisioned as a place where food science, policy and innovation will come together.

“We’re seeing new interest in agriculture technology and food biotechnology from venture capitalists who have previously specialized in IT or clean technology,” UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi said in an email interview. “The next step is to bridge the gap from interest to actual investment, and the World Food Center is working to accomplish just that.”

On Wednesday, the man brought from Phoenix to head a new regional business recruitment organization founded by area CEOs singled out food technology as one sector in which Sacramento could stake its claim. “We can build a brand around that,” said Barry Broome, chief executive of the Greater Sacramento Area Technology Council.

The Sacramento region has long struggled to nurture tech startups and keep them here. Fledgling companies frequently move to the Bay Area, citing the need to be close to funders. The region currently ranks 50th out 160 metropolitan areas in venture capital investment, according to the National Venture Capital Association.

“We’re clearly punching well below our weight class,” said John Selep, managing partner with the Davis-based AgTech Innovation Fund. “We can do far, far better.”

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