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St. Louis-based Yield Lab to open Ireland incubator with plans for more global locations

The Yield Lab, a St. Louis-based food and ag tech accelerator, is planning to expand into Galway, Ireland.

The incubator launched in 2014, investing $100,000 in startups and providing mentorship over a nine-month program. Managing director Thad Simons said part of the reason to create Yield Lab Galway is to gain access to both European startups and markets.

"We are really looking to see how we can be more effective with working with companies out of Europe and creating a bridgehead for our companies based here looking to launch into European markets," Simons said.

Ireland has been a natural fit as not only an English-speaking country, but one that shares some traits with St. Louis. Simons said it has a “one degree of separation” feel that’s similar to St. Louis’ startup ecosystem. But even with a vibrant innovation community, there was no incubator focused on ag tech there.

"Agriculture is the largest industry in Ireland, but they don’t really have any program like Yield Lab in the country, so we said it’s kind of like St. Louis was a couple of years ago before we started," he said.

The Yield Lab does not require startups to relocate, but instead to travel to the accelerator for a few days each month. Simons said Ireland was also attractive because AerLingus and Ryanair provide cheaper air fare than most carriers. He said that’s important for cash-strapped startups.

Simons expects to begin taking applications for Yield Lab Galway in January and for programming to begin in April.

Having Yield Lab in Ireland will also validate a burgeoning ag tech industry there, according to Jessica Benson, a vice president with IDA Ireland, a government agency focused on bringing in direct foreign investment. Benson said with many global technology companies already in Ireland, ag tech is a natural fit.

"As we move forward where we’re really going to see disruption in the ag industry," Benson said. "It’s going to be around big data, how we analyze that data, and Yield Lab has identified Ireland as a country that has the key factors that will allow companies to succeed."

Several members of Yield Lab’s team are traveling to Ireland this week as part of a St. Louis ag tech delegation. During that time Simons said they hope to hire a Galway-based director for the incubator and raise more money for the fund.

But Yield Lab doesn’t plan to stop with an Irish-based incubator. Simons said they’re planning another location in Argentina and are looking at possibilities in Asia, as well.

St. Louis Public Radio’s Maria Altman is with the St. Louis ag tech delegation in Ireland this week and will continue on to Israel next week. She’ll file stories from both locations.

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.