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Five in Five: Dennis Donohue of Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology

By Sarah Vickers-Webb
Production & Editorial Assistant
Santa Cruz Tech Beat

May 1, 2020 — Salinas, CA

WGCIT finds space for innovation in the midst of the pandemic

For our Five and Five interview with Western Growers Center for Innovation & Technology (WGCIT) director Dennis Donohue, we discussed the effects of the pandemic on the agtech industry.

Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California and Colorado. WGCIT opened its doors in December 2015, with only 6 start-up companies. Today, the WGCIT houses 60 startups who are developing innovative solutions to solve agriculture’s most pressing issues. These companies are working on everything from robotics and food safety traceability to rural connectivity and data management.

According to Dennis, WGCIT’s resident startups continue to move forward, despite the pandemic, although their focus may have shifted.

“Our residents, the business folks, the entrepreneurs, the solution providers, they’re obviously still interested in market access,” said Dennis. “Certain aspects of innovation become increasingly important at a time like this. On the other hand, this is a new moment, this is new terrain for everybody, so folks are navigating through their day to day quite focused on that.”

Dennis has found encouragement by speaking with folks from WGCIT’s startups. “One of them, whose crop was in harm’s way, now in terms of the marketplace, particularly in the food service and hospitality side, he said ‘I have to be very, very focused on what I’m doing right now, but I also understand the importance of innovation, and we’ve got to keep that process moving.'”

“In no way shape or form does anyone want to have had this ‘opportunity’ to look at new technologies. That juice is not worth the squeeze. That said, if there’s some other things going on that we can take advantage of or explore we’d be remiss not to. It’s a time to be strategic and focus your outreach and invite people in.”

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