The Danforth Center wants to nurture more startups. It's launching its own company to lead that effort. – St. Louis Business Journal

The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center has a goal of launching more agricultural technology startups from its campus. It is establishing its own startup company to lead that effort.
On Tuesday, the nonprofit Creve Coeur plant science institution said it has founded the Danforth Technology Co. (DTC), a wholly owned corporation that will focus on helping Danforth Center scientists commercialize their research and technology. DTC’s work will be targeted specifically to technology that originates from scientists at the Danforth Center.
“Delivering on our mission at the Danforth Center, and having impact from our work, means we need to move our scientific advances and technologies into the marketplace,” said Jim Carrington, Danforth Center president and CEO and chair of DTC. ”Establishing DTC will help accelerate the pace of agtech startup creation to deliver products and services that address significant challenges and needs in agriculture.”
DTC is led by CEO Tom Laurita, who joined the Danforth Center about two years ago as its director of entrepreneurship. Laurita is a co-founder and former CEO of agtech company NewLeaf Symbiotics, which is headquartered at BioResearch and Development Growth Park (BRDG) on the Danforth Center campus. Other leaders of DTC include Hal Davies, who is chief financial officer through his position as the Danforth Center’s chief operating officer and vice president of finance, and Entrepreneurship and Business Development Lead John Ahn. Ahn previously worked at the Argonne National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy science and engineering research center located outside of Chicago.
DTC has been conceptualized to act as a “link between Danforth Center scientists and entrepreneurs, investors, companies, and technology leaders.” Its formation comes as the Danforth Center has placed a growing emphasis on entrepreneurship.
“At the Danforth Center, a concerted effort has been taken to encourage entrepreneurship amongst the principal investigators,” Laurita said.
Laurita said the DTC builds upon the Danforth Center’s efforts to scout out technology early in its development and plot its potential for a commercial application. He said it will be able to use seed funding and intellectual property from the Danforth Center to create new companies.
“The eventual goal of this activity is either to find out that the technology really doesn’t have a commercial application, which is better to know early than late, or to develop a technology to the point where it’s possible to enter into negotiations on licensing the technology to a commercial partner or working with a commercial partner in another form. Then, one ultimate goal would be the creation of a startup,” Laurita said.
With the DTC, the Danforth Center hopes it can replicate and expand on previous startup successes that have been born within its walls. For example, the co-founders of prominent St. Louis agtech firm Benson Hill (NYSE: BHIL), which went public in 2021 at a valuation north of $1 billion, included two Danforth Center scientists.
As the DTC launches, Laurita said he believes there are several Danforth Center technologies close to the stage where they could be formed into startups. He’s optimistic some will advance this year.
“I expect this year that you will see at least one startup come out of the DTC,” he said.
Want to stay ahead of who & what is next? Sent twice a week, the Beat is your definitive look at St. Louis’s innovation economy, offering news, analysis & more on the people, companies & ideas driving your city forward. Follow The Beat