Magazine Store

50 Leading Companies of the Year 2024

Propelling the agriculture of tomorrow: Zone Agtech


“Covering an area of 15 square kilometers, Zone ensures that businesses have easy access to all the necessary tools to accelerate their development and market entry.”

Zone Agtech is an innovation cluster located in the L’Assomption RCM (near Montreal) that is dedicated to bringing together, propelling, and promoting the AgTech and plant bioproducts industry of Quebec, both locally and internationally.

The Silicon Review reached out to Marilou Cyr, General Manager of Zone Agtech, and here’s her response.

Interview Highlights

Please tell us about the circumstances or events that led to the founding of Zone Agtech.

Launched in February 2020 as part of the revitalization strategy of the MRC de L’Assomption, Zone Agtech carries, deploys, and animates a regional innovation ecosystem dedicated to innovative companies in agricultural technologies and plant bioproducts.

Covering an area of 15 square kilometers, Zone ensures that businesses have easy access to all the necessary tools to accelerate their development and market entry: welcoming and experimentation spaces, a workforce, highly skilled personnel, investors, business coaches, corporate and collaborative innovation consulting services, acceleration and financing programs, networking opportunities, and access to relevant international networks and corridors.

To fulfill its mission, Zone has established a five-year program in collaboration with major stakeholders actively involved, including the largest university faculty in agricultural and food sciences in Quebec - Université Laval, the main horticultural science research center recognized by the Ministry of Agriculture of Quebec - CIEL, the collegiate center for research in agro-environment and circular economy - Bio.Enviro.In, the collegiate center for technology transfer - Biopterre, the accelerator Cycle Momentum, the fourth-largest greenhouse manufacturer in the world - Industries Harnois, Canada’s largest food banner: Sobeys, the territory development organization - CieNOV, and the cities of Repentigny and L’Assomption, encompassing over 126,000 citizens and providing three million square feet of industrial space for the project.

Zone Agtech also leads a pan-Quebec network called the Agtech Community of Quebec, which brings together over 250 members and partners from the research, entrepreneurial, funding, and market access sectors, supporting it to increase its impact and promote better international positioning of Quebec’s Agtech initiatives.

In addition to targeting investments of over 400 million dollars and supporting the industrial conversion of the MRC de L’Assomption, the Agtech Zone’s programming pursues three main objectives:

  • Accelerate the development and market entry of innovative agricultural technologies and plant bioproducts capable of addressing challenges such as labor shortages, climate change, instability in global food chains, and environmental preservation in the agricultural and agri-food sector.
  • Promote intersectoral mutualization and collaboration.
  • Enhance the visibility and positioning of Agtech innovations in Quebec, both domestically and internationally.

On a daily basis, it stimulates the development of research and innovation projects in the Agtech sector, facilitates their transfer to the markets, co-manages acceleration and funding programs, attracts investors, encourages the deployment of mutualization and collaboration initiatives in the regional ecosystem, establishes technology transfer initiatives, and annually organizes more than 35 events, activities, and international missions. Its priority verticals are controlled environment agriculture, robotics and agriculture 4.0, plant bioproducts and agroecology, and high-nutrient-value and low-environmental-impact foods.

Its relevance in Quebec has been well demonstrated in less than three years.

  • It has supported over 140 companies in their innovation projects.
  • Deployed five innovation and acceleration programs and pathways.
  • Co-founded six inter-order research chairs.
  • Confirmed 30 companies in direct investment in the MRC de L’Assomption.
  • Initiated Quebec’s visibility and international collaboration in the Agtech sphere with seven countries.

Given the high demand for office, workshop, and laboratory spaces in the ecosystem, Zone Agtech is also building an innovation and business acceleration space. This space will become the hub for Agtech innovation projects in Quebec, where research organizations, technology developers, users, contractors, investors, and coaches will come together to accelerate the development of groundbreaking innovations for the future of Quebec.

Q. As a business development entity, what are Zone’s key focus areas?  

In pursuit of its vision, Zone Agtech has brought together the best organizations and partners to support companies that wish to actively participate in the mission:

  • Companies developing innovative agricultural technologies and plant bioproducts;
  • Research and funding organizations dedicated to AgTech;
  • Local and international agricultural and Agtech ecosystems;
  • Users of agricultural technologies, whether they are agricultural producers or major players. The innovation programming of Zone Agtech is structured around four strategic verticals. These axes have been defined in collaboration with the Board of Directors of Zone Agtech and the Agtech Innovation Unit (prospective research), which includes Zone Agtech, CIEL, and Laval University (FSAA). For each of them, Zone develops innovation projects in collaboration with university partners, technology transfer centers, research centers, startups, and industrial partners.

Axis 1 - Development of agricultural technologies and solutions for optimizing production in controlled environments: Crop variety, phytosanitary protection, robotics (analysis, sorting, packaging, harvesting), energy efficiency, atmosphere management, new structures, coatings, and innovative materials; bioenergy (e.g., solar).

Axis 2 - Development of robotic and precision technologies for field cultivation: Analysis, harvesting, weeding, and irrigation robots, probes, drones, satellite imagery, cameras, precision applications (water and input management), genomic tools (e.g., disease diagnosis), etc.

Axis 3 - Development of plant bioproducts and agroecology (new types of inputs, fertilizers, biocatalysts, insect frass, membranes/mulches, water retention solutions, etc.) and valorization of outputs (agri-food processing, biomaterials, insect farms, bioenergy—biodigesters, biomethanizers).

Axis 4 - High-nutrient-value foods: Molecular/cellular foods (extraction of active ingredients, microalgae, new plants, laboratory-based cultivation/production) and alternative proteins (plants, insects, algae, controlled environment aquaculture, e.g., shrimp, salmonids, etc., in fermentation, cell culture).

The strategic directions pursued are as follows:

  • Ensure the regrouping and synergy between the main actors in Quebec in Agtech and plant bioproducts;
  • Stimulate innovation, technology transfer, and promising initiatives in Agtech and plant bioproducts;
  • Promote the creation, implementation, and acceleration of companies offering advanced solutions in AgTech and plant bioproducts;
  • Promote exchanges and networking with the main local and international players and markets in Agtech and plant bioproducts;
  • Create a strong brand image to be recognized within the Quebec ecosystem and internationally.

Q. Can you introduce us to your services? What are their main features?

Here are the main services offered in Quebec:

Innov’agtech Incubation Program: Accommodates 10 companies over 16 weeks, providing a comprehensive program with 70 hours of training, market roundtables, coaching, peer-to-peer sessions, and financing roundtables.

Cycle Momentum Acceleration Program: Powered by Zone Agtech, in collaboration with Bioenterprise (Canadian Agtech/Foodtech Network): Supports five companies over 16 weeks, offering a complete program with 90 hours of training and coaching, peer-sharing, and networking with early adopters.

Agtech x Finance Pathway: Accommodates 20 companies over eight weeks to understand and implement best financing practices in their capital-intensive industry. This includes demystifying available financing programs, understanding the business ecosystem, negotiating with investors, and designing business models, business plans, pitch decks, and financial structures. In addition to training sessions and practical workshops, each company is assigned a coach, and mid-course and final meetings are organized in front of a group of buyers and funding organizations to provide relevant feedback on their progress.

Personalized Support: Companies in the acceleration and scale-up phases have access to specialized consulting services tailored to their business. These services revolve around market research, feasibility studies, innovation project management, innovation financing, defining innovative business models, business plan design, strategic planning, intellectual property protection strategy, innovation commercialization strategy, and support in finding investor, distribution, and early adopter partners. Companies wishing to obtain these services have access to startup rates.

Collaborative Corporate Innovation Program: Zone Agtech organizes, in collaboration with the industry, an average of five collaborative innovation programs per year based on addressing challenges or needs for a major client, in which startups and innovators are invited to participate. To date, Zone Agtech has organized and/or worked on the following programs: Design of eco-packaging dedicated to the horticultural sector (Cascades), Development of low soil compaction caterpillars (Soucy International), Integration of innovations for carbon capture (Bridgeston), Innovation program in outer space (Canadian Space Agency), Innovation program for food autonomy (Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal), Mechanization and robotization program for the horticultural sector (five Quebec’s horticultural associations), and Innovation program for the robotization of public nurseries in Quebec. It has also co-organized, with Ecotech Québec, two major events in clean agricultural technologies (over 10 challenges per edition) and is a partner in 10 MAPAQ and CRNSG industry-research projects and chairs where it has integrated startups and innovative agricultural technologies.

Agtech Community of Quebec, Powered by Zone Agtech: Zone Agtech created the Agtech Community of Quebec to significantly shorten the time from idea to market. Now gathering over 250 members and partners, this community is a vital tool for Zone Agtech, allowing it to:

  • Launch calls for applications and/or solutions.
  • Easily recruit experts, scientists, and investors.
  • Organize and mobilize the ecosystem around structuring issues and projects.
  • Facilitate collaboration, networking, and co-development.
  • Easily access a bank of pre-qualified contacts for matchmaking between startups and investors, early adopters, and partners.
  • Generate interest from local and global major players in our ecosystem and the solutions developed there.
  • Host delegations and organize international missions.
  • Understand industry challenges (financing chain, user issues, growth potential), easily identify weaknesses and constraints in the ecosystem, and implement missing tools and levers through group effort.

Welcoming, Experimentation, and Technological Demonstration Spaces with Industry Collaboration: In collaboration with the Carrefour industriel et expérimental de Lanaudière, the City of L’Assomption, the City of Repentigny, and real estate developers, Zone Agtech provides spaces for welcome, experimentation, and technological demonstration with the industry.

Comprehensive Program of Networking Events and Activities (Locally and Internationally): With the tailored training and webinars it offers, Agtech Cafés, major discussions (future greenhouses, field farming), international missions, and its annual symposium, Zone Agtech welcomes 3000 participants annually.

Q. What new endeavors is Zone currently undertaking?

Zone Agtech is undertaking the construction of a 40,000-square-foot innovation complex in collaboration with the CIEL research center in plant science. This complex will host several dozen companies, researchers, and product development teams, providing access to fully equipped laboratories, growth chambers, technological workshops, meeting rooms, and training facilities.

“Zone Agtech is undertaking the construction of a 40,000-square-foot innovation complex in collaboration with the CIEL research center in plant science. This complex will host several dozen companies, researchers, and product development teams, providing access to fully equipped laboratories, growth chambers, technological workshops, meeting rooms, and training facilities.”