August 30, 2022

Champaign, please: OnRamp Agriculture Conference heads to Illinois for first sessions IRL

After two years of being virtual, the OnRamp Agricultural Conference – the first in its vertical from the startup-focused OnRamp series – brought more than 500 attendees to the University of Illinois’ Champaign-Urbana campus for in-person meetings last month. This year’s event also marked the first time the conference came to Illinois, underscoring the state’s position as a leader in agricultural innovation and technology.

Bringing the event to Champaign was a goal for Serra Ventures, a VC firm focused on early stage growth companies and the conference’s presenting sponsor.

“Our community is a magnet for truly disruptive innovations in the ag and food industries,” said Dennis Beard, managing partner of Serra Ventures. “Collaboration and cooperation are innate to our community’s culture and represent two of our signature values. We look forward to bringing others into the fold.”

Image of OnRamp Keynote speaker session

Attendees including startups, leading agriculture companies, and investment firms gathered at the university’s State Farm Center to participate in the conference. Activities included panelist discussions, randomized networking opportunities, and curated one-on-one investor pitching.

Champaign is home to Research Park, a leading technology hub that cultivates startups and accelerates corporate innovation. The park employs students and professionals from more than 120 companies, and is home to the Illinois AgTech Accelerator. Developed by Serra Ventures and startup accelerator gener8tor, IAA recruits select agtech startups worldwide and brings them to the university for an intense program that includes meeting with coaches, mentors, customers, corporate partners and investors. Now in its third cohort, IAA portfolio companies had raised $20 million as of April 2022.

“More than anything, [the conference attendees] want customers,” gener8tor co-founder Troy Vosseller told WCIA News at this year’s conference. “And so OnRamp was really designed to help early-stage startups get access to high-level decision makers at these corporations. So these include John Deere and AGCO and Agri-Fab, in addition to these investors as well.”

The location couldn’t be better. Illinois is in the heart of the agriculture-heavy Midwest, and Champaign-based Serra Ventures announced a $45 million AgTech fund in February. Nearby Parkland College is the nation’s No. 2 community college for Precision Agriculture, with four National Science Foundation grants for innovative AgTech programming. And, the OnRamp conference comes just a few months after the community’s AgTech Innovation Summit.

The 2022 conference had more than a dozen panelists, hailing from consulting giants like EY to farm suppliers like CHS and chemical inputter FMC. Topics ranged from scaling sustainable agriculture and partnering with grower-owned cooperatives to the future of biological crop inputs and proposed reporting requirements.

Dates for the 2023 OnRamp Agriculture Conference have yet to be announced.

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