A grant from the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration will help kick-start the transformative initiative.
Creating opportunities for the future of Lubbock and West Texas is at the top of the priority list for the Texas Tech University Innovation Hub at Research Park.
For the next several years, the federal government will lend a hand in that directive, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce through the Economic Development Administration's (EDA) 2018 Regional Innovation Strategies program competition.
The Innovation Hub was notified in December that it has received a $300,000 grant to assist with the creation of an AgTech Fund called Hub Fuel, which will focus on the ecosystem in West Texas, including elements such as biotechnology, plant and animal breeding, water and environment technologies, big data analytics, and others. The local fund match for the initial stages of Hub Fuel is $349,146. Texas Tech was the only entity in the state to receive a grant among the 17 that were given.
"Texas Tech is an unquestioned leader in innovation, and the Hub Fuel Project will pave the way for new technologies for our farmers and ranchers while also creating jobs and attracting development opportunities to West Texas," U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington said.
"I am absolutely thrilled for my alma mater as it launches this project in conjunction with the Department of Commerce's Regional Innovation Strategies grant, and I know that it will not only add to our local economy but also increase our region's stake in AgTech."
Forbes.com writer Erik Kobayashi-Solomon describes AgTech as the "application of technology – especially software and hardware technology – to the field of farming. AgTech is an industry that encompasses diverse solutions to almost every step in the food production process."
The goal of Texas Tech's Hub Fuel initiative is to fund early-stage startups that are commercializing technology, resulting in new business and job creation in a region where much of the state's farmland and agriculture business need innovation to support the state's growing economy. This project will undertake a five-step process to establish the Hub Fuel fund at Texas Tech University, including fund management, fundraising, marketing and sustainability modeling. Over three years, Hub Fuel anticipates funding 25-35 AgTech ventures, supporting more than 300 direct jobs.
"What we're doing is trying to build innovation and entrepreneurship support in our community by encouraging investors to fund good ideas, and this project establishes the support for funding," said Kimberly Gramm, senior managing director of the Innovation Hub. "There are no venture funds in West Texas. This is the first of its kind. It has a chance to be transformative because it brings capital to these AgTech ventures and will allow them to hire people who stay in our community and create job opportunities and products that support West Texas."
Hub Fuel is a $2 million to $10 million fund. The fund is a resource for early-stage startups that are commercializing technology, resulting in new business and job creation in a region where much of the state's farmland and agriculture business need innovation to support the state's growing economy.
Gramm noted that research enterprise is driving a need for innovators to have access to resources and is needed in a community that needs capital investment. The Hub Fuel project is a "stepping stone for more economic prosperity for its citizens."
"Texas Tech is thrilled to have been awarded this coveted grant," said Joseph Heppert, vice president in the Office of Research & Innovation. "Opportunities to diversify research funding sources and enhance community engagement through the formation of partnerships with both the private sector and regional economic and social empowerment agencies is a driver in the growth of innovation activity. This award represents how Texas Tech and our community partners have come together to support an agriculture cluster to be competitive."
Leaders in Lubbock and West Texas agree.
"What fabulous news!" Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope wrote in an email. "The award of the Department of Commerce Regional Innovation Strategies grant to develop West Texas' first venture fund is an exciting opportunity.
"I believe the fund will help our community and the region to create new agriculture technology ventures, which in turn creates jobs and prosperity aligning with our regions' economic development efforts. Texas Tech is doing great things to support our community. We are glad to be their partner. This is an effort that will be transformational."
As with most research and innovation in West Texas, the cotton industry will be an important partner.
"Plains Cotton Cooperative Association (PCCA) was proud to support Texas Tech Innovation Hub at Research Park's proposal for this grant," said PCCA President and CEO Kevin Brinkley. "Since its founding in 1953, PCCA has earned an international reputation for developing and introducing innovation and technology on behalf of its 15,000 grower-owners in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and New Mexico. We know innovation and technology are vital for our cotton farmers to compete in international markets, and PCCA will continue to provide support for this project as it moves forward."
The eight partners on Hub Fuel with Texas Tech are the City of Lubbock, PCCA, the Lubbock Angel Network, the Lubbock Economic Development Alliance, the Seraph Group, Truno and the Plains Cotton Growers.
About the U.S. Economic Development Administration
The mission of the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting competitiveness and preparing the nation's regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, EDA makes investments in economically distressed communities in order to create jobs for U.S. workers, promote American innovation, and accelerate long-term sustainable economic growth.