Local growers and farmers will soon have a new — and easy — way to work with the tech community.
A new partnership between startup hub RustBuilt Pittsburgh and tech research and strategy firm KRNLS will bring agricultural tech collaboration to the region. Mimetic — named for the concept of Müllerian mimicry — will include local farmers, technologists, founders and funders interested in using Pittsburgh’s tech expertise to improve agriculture practices.
A recent update to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture estimated that across the state, the total economic output of the agriculture industry is $132.5 billion and supports a total of 593,600 jobs.
“There is currently a lack of regional support for collaboration between our hardworking farmers and burgeoning tech industry,” KRNLS cofounder and Principal Olga Pogoda and RustBuilt Pittsburgh “refounder” and Head of Platform Kit Mueller told Technical.ly in an email. That gap, plus agriculture’s status as a leading industry for Pennsylvania, makes Pittsburgh “uniquely positioned to lead the way in bridging the gap between our urban and rural sectors while highlighting our regions’ historical strengths in both agricultural production and innovation,” the two said.
Though Pogoda and Mueller shared that RustBuilt Pittsburgh and KRNLS had long been in discussion about how to launch a new collaboration in the tech industry, they saw one of the best opportunities in agtech. After seeing success from similar initiatives in other parts of the country — like the Magic Valley Food Innovation Center in Idaho and a case study on rural entrepreneurship in Wyoming by KRNLS — as well as the rise of agtech companies like Bloomfield Robotics and Fifth Season here in Pittsburgh, Pogoda and Mueller decided to work together on the overlap of tech and farming.
"Within a short drive, you can get fresh fruits, meat, dairy and vegetables and have testing grounds for new hardware, software and robotics solutions."
“This is certainly part of the growing groundswell of related efforts to catalyze one of our state’s most important industries, and is in direct response to the marked interest we’re seeing everyday from the AgTech community within the 9-county footprint and beyond,” Pogoda and Mueller wrote. “Pittsburgh is incredibly fortunate to have so many nearby farms — within a short drive, you can get fresh fruits, meat, dairy and vegetables and have testing grounds for new hardware, software and robotics solutions.”
Mimetic is still in its early stages, and will officially kick off next Friday, Oct. 15, with a farm tour for startups teams, farmers and researchers in agtech. Over the next few months, Mimetic will increase programming and other resources for the community through partnerships with across the industry, as well as potential investors.
But overall, Mimetic’s goal is to benefit people beyond the traditional tech industry by using the expertise of that industry to help uplift others.
“From day one, Mimetic’s mission is to create shared success for people across agriculture and food innovation,” Pogoda and Mueller said, adding that they hope to build the kind of connections and community that organizations like RustBuilt Pittsburgh have already established here.
Perhaps most importantly, this new collaboration signals yet another way that Pittsburgh is bridging its industrial past with its tech-centric future. By infusing farming with tech, Mimetic will be part of the broader effort to ensure Pittsburgh’s tech advances benefit all sectors of the economy.
“This collaboration is developed to create more economic opportunities for small farmers and rural entrepreneurs while hopefully inspiring new technological advancements from our region,” Pogoda and Mueller said.
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments. -30-