Via Chicago Tribune : Tyson Foods has launched a Chicago-based venture capital fund with an ambitious mission: develop new technologies to feed the world, perhaps with something beyond its core meat products.
The Arkansas-based poultry giant announced Monday it is making $150 million available to Tyson New Ventures, which will invest in ag-tech startups creating alternative forms of protein, eliminating food waste and tapping the “internet of food” to promote efficiencies in the food chain.
“These are areas that are experiencing a high degree of entrepreneurial focus, but they also have a lot of uncertainty around them in terms of technical feasibility, perhaps consumer acceptance,” said Monica McGurk, executive vice president for Tyson Foods. “Should they pan out, they could be incredibly additive to our core business.”
Tyson Foods is a leading producer of chicken, beef and pork, whose brands include Tyson, Jimmy Dean, Hillshire Farm and Sara Lee. An existing 500-person Chicago office provides a “meaningful presence” to piggyback the new venture on, McGurk said. No less important is the city’s place in the fast-growing agriculture technology sector, which last year drew $4.6 billion in investments nationwide, according to AgFunder.
“There’s a center of gravity around ag tech in the Midwest, with St. Louis and Chicago being two of the bigger centers for that,” McGurk said. “Chicago is certainly a fantastic location for the strategic fit and the ease of getting in front of the other markets where there is also entrepreneurial activity taking place.”
Ag tech, which used to focus on seed genetics and biofuels, has evolved into a variety of cutting-edge technologies involving everything from drones and robotics to sustainable protein sources — replacing traditional meat products with newly created plant-based substitutes.
The first investment for Tyson New Ventures was Tyson’s previously announced 5 percent ownership stake in plant-based protein producer Beyond Meat. The privately held California startup, also backed by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, created a pea-based veggie burger designed to look, cook and taste like a meat burger, replete with beet juice to “bleed” like the real thing. The product is rolling out nationwide and available at Chicago-area Whole Foods stores.
Tyson New Ventures will be led by Mary Kay James, who previously served as managing director of DuPont Ventures.