InvestMidwest  |  April 12-13, 2023 | Saint Louis, Missouri

Commercialization Snapshots of Alumni Companies from Previous InvestMidwest Venture Conferences.

published December 18, 2022

More than 250 companies have presented at InvestMidwest over the last 22 years. We are talking to these companies to learn how InvestMidwest has helped startups over the and to identify what organizations in our Midwest innovation ecosystems have helped these alumni along their individual pathways to commercialization in addition to InvestMidwest. We have begun our blog series with four ag innovation companies.

Company Overviews

Company: Divergence

Company: 3Bar Biologics

Company: Aker

Company: Plastomics

* Presenter at InvestMidwest

Company History and Updates


Problem addressed

Divergence developed a genomics and information technology platform aimed at controlling parasitic nematodes of crops, both agrochemicals and resistant crops.

Technology had applications in human medicine and agriculture.  The agriculture market became the focus.  The platform helped to develop both agricultural chemical approach and modified plant approach for crop resistance.


2000 founded.

2011 successful exit through acquisition by Monsanto 

Founding team

The technology inventor, Jim McCarter, was a young scientist at Washington University.  He wanted to found a company and looked for a CEO with innovation experience to join him.  He found his CEO at Monsanto in Derek Rapp, then Monsanto’s lead for Mergers and Acquisitions.  Derek was attracted by the innovation of Jim’s discoveries and by the commercial opportunities.  Derek led Divergence to a successful exit.

What are founders doing now?

After Divergence’s successful exit, both CEO and inventor have remained active in the St Louis innovation ecosystem.  Derek joined RiverVest Venture Partners in St. Louis focused on life science companies addressing medical needs.  Jim joined Abbott’s Diabetes Care New Analyte Ventures as Medical Director but also serves is a part-time entrepreneur in residence with BioGenerator.

3Bar Biologics

Problem addressed

3Bar Biologics has developed a platform to stabilize and extend the shelf-life of living microbial products and is commercializing beneficial microbes that augment crop nutrition uptake.  Their current business model is to provide contract development and manufacturing services for other microbial products companies.


3Bar has doubled its revenue for the three past years from seed investments of $2.4M, much from Ohio-based groups.  They are currently growing via revenue growth and are seeking capital from outside their immediate region to accelerate growth.  Investment capital would allow 3Bar Biologic to build out larger manufacturing facility and hire additional talent.

Aker Technologies

Problem addressed

Aker is developing automated on farm pest scouting over and under the canopy via drones and machine-learned analytics.


2016 founded. Since founding to automate crop scouting and provide services to agriculture chemical manufacturers to manage field trials, Aker has pivoted to be closer to the path of recommendations to solve something on farm.  Aker is currently pursuing their growth by growing their customer base and revenue.  They have made their user interface easier to use by growers and farm advisors and their platform more easily integrated with other data collection on farm. 

Founding team

Orlando, a software executive, started Aker with Todd Golly, a corn and soy farmer in the Great Lakes region.


Problem addressed

Plastomics aims to enable crop improvement by stacking multiple genes and expressing high levels of transgenic proteins in a single crop variety.  Their platform utilizes chloroplast transformation as an improved method for developing crops with new traits.


2017 founded.

Founding team

The founders all met at Monsanto where they held various roles.

What are founders doing now?

Sharon and Elizabeth have worked together before founding Plastomics and both are now supporting another startup. Sharon is helping  Pluton Biosciences with product development and regulatory strategy, while Elizabeth is serving as Pluton’s current CEO.

How did InvestMidwest help each company?


InvestMidwest provided a platform for Derek to network and pitch the vision of Divergence.  Derek presented twice at InvestMidwest once in 2001 in Kansas City where he first met Brian Clevinger, managing director at Prolog Ventures and then again in 2002 where he and Brian continued discussions.  Prolog Ventures later led the first institutional round of investment into Divergence.

3Bar Biologics

As part of their effort to make get noticed and build productive relationships with venture capital firms for additional investment and other microbial product innovative companies for customers, Bruce and Jane presented to InvestMidwest in 2018 where they networked with other microbial products companies for customer development.  

Aker Technologies

By presenting and networking at InvestMidwest, Orlando feels he created greater familiarity for Aker among a group of investors and that this familiarity provided the catalyst to close his round that was led by Lewis and Clark and also included Flyover Capital.


Sharon attended InvestMidwest in 2012 while she was a venture scout for Dow Agrosciences.  When she and her team needed to raise capital for Plastomics, they presented at InvestMidwest to get visibility for Plastomics and to build stronger relationships with the regional investment community.

Meet Our Planning Committee

published December 9, 2022

Sharon A. Berberich

Sharon has over 30 years’ experience in food and agriculture with a focus on executive leadership & strategy, business development, product development, licensing, venture capital investment, regulatory, intellectual property and field operations. She is currently Senior Director of Pipeline Management at Pluton Biosciences, Inc. Background includes Monsanto Company, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, Dow AgroSciences and multiple start-ups. Built and led the US Operations for Kaiima Bio Agritech, a subsidiary of an Israeli-based start-up.  Established a consulting business to serve the Ag Tech entrepreneurial community.  Her portfolio included serving as CEO of Plastomics, a plant biotechnology company, CEO for Impetus Agriculture, a start-up focused on biological insect control, and Business Development Lead for Aker Technologies a precision ag start-up as well as multinational companies, academic institutions and other start-up companies as mentor, board member, and business advisor.  She is a distinguished alumni of the University of Missouri-Columbia CAFNR and hold a BS in Biochemistry and Agriculture.

Connie Bowen

Co-Founder/General Partner at Farmhand Ventures

I am volunteering my time and energy to help relaunch the InvestMidwest forum because I see an opportunity for the event to serve as a keystone in connecting underrepresented founders and funders throughout the Midwest region.

Connie is an agrifoodtech investor, currently building and backing companies creating the future of work in specialty crop agriculture at Farmhand Ventures. She got her start in agtech in St. Louis investing with The Yield Lab and leading The Yield Lab Institute, and has continued her exploration of the space through farmland investment at Chess Ag Full Harvest Partners, operations at Farmacopia Farms, and farmer-centric investment and innovation at AgLaunch. She’s also a Venture for America alumn, and Venture Partner at Republic, and active thought-leader in agtech, contributing to Forbes, AgFunder, and others.

Robert Calcatera

I am an early founder of InvestMidwest and have served on its board and as an active volunteer for 25 years. It has been instrumental in defining the entrepreneurial ecosystem of St. Louis and Missouri. Therefore I am dedicated to its evolving to address changing regional needs and success going forward.

Dr. Robert J. Calcaterra is currently a principal in StartUp Partners International LLC that is involved in the start up, structuring, managing, and financing of early stage companies. Between 2009 and now StartUp Partners International has successfully started, organized, and funded numerous companies. Dr. Calcaterra is currently on the board of Moleculara Labs Inc. in Oklahoma City OK.
Through StartUp Partners International Dr. Calcaterra has and is assisting well over 200 companies that have SBIR grants from the USDA, DOE, NOAA NASA, NSF and the NIH. commercialize their technology. He consults or has consulted for many public and private institutions including companies in Nebraska, Kentucky and Arkansas, the USDA, EPA, University of Nebraska Lincoln, University of Iowa Foundation, Chicago State University, University of North Dakota and City of Madison Wisconsin.
Prior to that Dr. Calcaterra founded and was in succession Chief Executive Officer of the Nidus Center for Scientific Enterprise (a Monsanto Company) the Arizona Technology Incubator and Boulder Technology Incubator.
Previously, Dr. Calcaterra worked for numerous Fortune 500 companies including the Adolph Coors Company, Amoco Inc., Alcoa Inc. and Monsanto.
Dr. Calcaterra did his graduate and undergraduate work in chemical engineering at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln with BS and MS degrees. He received his D.Sc. in chemical engineering from Washington University of St. Louis.

Andy Dearing

President at Spatial STL Advisors
GeoFutures Initiative Lead

I am donating my time to support the InvestMidest event relaunch because the value that this forum provides in driving regional innovation and opportunities for current and future entrepreneurs and investors are critical to our regional success.

Andy Dearing is a geospatial entrepreneur and is the President of Spatial STL Advisors. Andy currently serves as the lead for the GeoFutures Initiative, an Initiative of Greater St. Louis Inc. GeoFutures serves as the regional strategy for building an inclusive growth strategy to support the development of St. Louis as the premiere global geospatial hub.
Andy also is a General Partner at Cultivation Capital, serving on the venture capital group’s Geospatial Tech Fund. He also serves as an advisor to the Taylor Geospatial Institute, Co-Chair for the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation’s St. Louis Area Working Group,
and serves on several startup and non-profit Boards.
Prior to Spatial STL Advisors, he served as the CEO of Boundless Spatial, a leading startup in the geospatial industry. After moving the headquarters to St. Louis and leading the organization in over 200% growth in a 2 year period, he led the exit of Boundless to Planet Labs, Inc in 2019. Andy has also served in leadership roles at Esri, SAIC, and IMAPS over the past 20 years.
Andy earned his Masters of Business Administration from Maryville University, and holds a Bachelors of Science in Aviation Science and Bachelors of Science in Aviation Management from Saint Louis University.

Jeremy Degenhart

Jeremy Degenhart

Professor of Practice in Finance at Washington University in St. Louis

Jeremy provides entrepreneurs with the flexible, cost-effective financing they need in order to scale their businesses, utilizing private capital and economic development programs including New Markets Tax Credits (NMTC). Since 1992, Advantage Capital has invested more than $1.9 billion in companies at all stages of development from a broad array of industry sectors spanning 23 states.

Alfred Jackson

Missouri is a great place to build a business and career, but the only way we stay competitive with other regions is by investing in the resources that help drive innovation in our state. Invest Midwest is an important key to the long-term growth of our region because capital is a vital aspect to Founders of all stages feeling that they can build and, most importantly, grow here.

Alfred Jackson is an adviser and operator. He's built a career around building leverageable corporate, venture capital, and talent relationships for early-stage startups.  He's led entrepreneur support and investor connections at Arch Grants, was an investor at Atento Capital and Lightship in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and most recently led sales and operations for an early-stage workforce marketplace startup. He's also an angel investor through Concrete Rose Capital's Super Angels Program. Alfred has had the opportunity to build his career and adult life in St. Louis, and now that he's moved back, he wants to help bridge the gap between culture and innovation in our community.

Candace Seeve

Director, Laboratory Operations at TechAccel, LLC

InvestMidwest has a long history of being a bringing Midwest entrepreneurs, innovators, and investors together. What better way to spur innovations addressing our significant food and climate challenges than to intentionally gather these groups, and do it all here in the Midwest, the heart of the nation’s agrifood tech industry.

Candace is Director of Laboratory Operations for RNAissance Ag and its parent company, TechAccel, a technology and venture development organization that invests in the development and de-risking of crop protection & improvement, animal health & nutrition, and food safety technologies. Candace specializes in early-stage technology evaluation and leads
RNAissance Ag's R&D and laboratory operations. She received her Ph.D. in Plant Sciences from Texas A&M University.
Candace’s family has been farming in Montana for four generations. Her passion for advancing innovations that address agricultural challenges is rooted in her experiences growing up, and working on the family farm.

Tony Simpson

President / Founder at AgTech Advisors, LLC

InvestMidwest showcases innovations coming from the heart of our country.  By providing a forum for lIfe science, animal health, technology and agriculture entrepreneurs to pitch their company before investors across the value chain, InvestMidwest drives the regional ecosystem and helps bring capital and resources to the next generation of business leaders in these critical industries.  I’m honored to play a small role in helping InvestMidwest achieve this important mission and connect capital to ideas.

Tony Simpson brings more than 25 years of experience leading and investing in companies in agribusiness and animal health. In 2015, Tony founded AgTech Advisors, LLC, a consulting firm focused on supporting entrepreneurs and investors in the agtech sector. Previously, he served as a Managing Director for the Kansas Bioscience Authority where he led the organization’s investment efforts in agtech, animal health and bioenergy, leading investments in companies such as Aratana Therapeutics, Green Dot, SmartVet and Advanced Animal Diagnostics.

Mr. Simpson holds an Economics Degree from Millikin University, an MBA from the Carlson School of Business (University of Minnesota-Minneapolis) and completed the Private Equity and Venture Capital Executive Education Program at Harvard.