When Nadia Shakoor began searching for a streamlined way to collect data on crop growth, the seed was planted for a revolutionary idea: to create a fully integrated smart farm system.

A breeding and genetics researcher at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Shakoor and her team developed the PheNode, a solar-powered crop-monitoring station resembling a miniature antenna, complete with remote imaging and onboard diagnostics. As farmers expressed interest in how the station might help measure crop conditions and irrigation, the idea quickly expanded beyond the research lab and an even more ambitious concept took flight. Shakoor launched a startup, Agrela Ecosystems, to bring the phenotyping device to market and started searching for ways to capture field conditions beyond a single station.

Shakoor’s innovative project is just one example of the groundbreaking work being done in St. Louis, known as Silicon Prairie. Since 2019, 11 early-stage agtech companies, including St. Louis–based Pluton Biosciences, were selected to participate in the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN2) and received funding from the Well Fargo Foundation and expertise from scientists at the Danforth Center, the world’s largest nonprofit independent plant science institute.

“St. Louis is the right place to be for us, because it works,” says Orlando Saez, CEO of Aker Technologies, which was part of the first IN2 agtech cohort. “When you need to innovate, you need the best—the best talent, the best support, the right place. St. Louis offers a great balance for emerging companies like us in agriculture.” READ MORE