Skip to Content

AgStart’s Woodland Lab Space Opens to Rush of Demand from Startups

By News Media Coverage

Sacramento Business Journal – Emily Hamann (May 31, 2021) – “It’s been open for less than a week, but the Lab@AgStart already has reservations or commitments for half of its lab benches.

AgStart, a Woodland-based incubator for agriculture and food technology startups, celebrated the grand opening of its new $1.5 million facility in Downtown Woodland last Thursday.

The 4,800-square-foot space includes coworking space for startups; the Yocha Dehe Lab, a wet chemistry laboratory space with 28 benches; and the Raley’s Food Lab, a certified food facility that will allow startups to take ingredients they develop and experiment on recipes and formulas for new food products.

“Having the food facility and the wet lab under the same roof allows them to do that closed-loop development, testing and commercialization,” said John Selep, president and board chair for the AgTech Innovation Alliance.

Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, attended Lab@AgStart’s opening event. She said facilities like the Lab@AgStart are vital to solving the biggest challenges in agriculture, including drought and climate change.

“We’re becoming so dependent on science, math and engineering as part of the multidisciplinary approach to solve these really big issues,” Ross said. “So having this space to do that kind of experimentation, to prove out the concepts, and then get it ready for scaling up for commercialization is huge to our ability to not only feed people better, with better nourishment, but with a smaller environmental impact.”

Six startups have already signed commitments to move into the lab, including Pheronym, a biological pest management technology company.

“We are so happy for this lab space,” said Pheronym co-founder and CEO Fatma Kaplan. Before now, the company had been working out of the HM.Clause Life Science Innovation Center south of Davis.

“We knew we were going to grow, we knew we needed to move to another place, but there wasn’t the next step for us,” Kaplan said. “In this place, it is going to be a lot easier to expand.”

For years, the Sacramento region has faced a shortage of wet lab space, which is necessary for working with biological samples.

“There is a critical need for wet lab space in the region,” said Trish Kelly, managing director of Valley Vision, a research and advocacy nonprofit focused on the Sacramento region economy. “Companies cannot scale in the region, because the current lab space is way undersupplied.”

Existing local incubators are bursting at the seams, Kelly said. “We have companies coming to us, begging for space.”

The opening of the Lab@Agstart has doubled local wet lab capacity.

“We know we have this great concentration of assets, and this is going to give us the ability to take things to the next level,” Kelly said. “It’s a world-class piece of infrastructure.”

Beyond the equipment, Kelly said the lab will also bring startups and researchers together.

“It’s our innovation ecosystem that we’re trying to build here,” Kelly said.

Selep said there will likely still be demand for lab space after the Lab@AgStart fills up. He said AgStart is already thinking about another facility.

“Because of the demand that we’re seeing, again, half the space is spoken for, we’ve had discussions with the folks at the Woodland Research and Technology Park,” Selep said. “Our long-term vision is, if we can demonstrate that we are able to open and operate a lab here successfully, financially successfully — as a nonprofit we need to be able to cover our costs — we can start to have a conversation about a new expanded facility at the Woodland Research and Technology Park two or three years down the road.”