A Project Spanning Research to K-12;
Industry to Academia; Urban to Rural
The Advanced Hydroponic Lab at the Governor's School for Science and Mathematics (GSSM) in Hartsville combined with Accelerate, an intensive engineering program delivered by GSSM and its college partners that offers virtual courses to high school students across SC, illustrates the ability of an innovation to reach broadly across SC.
Hydroponic farming cultivates plants using nutrients in water solutions without the presence of soil. It allows high-density growing without the use of pesticides or disturbed land and uses less labor, chemicals, and water than traditional growing methods. Hydroponic farming can be done in rural or urban settings to provide fresh foods year-round which help people live healthy lifestyles. Everyone in SC can benefit, either as a producer or a consumer. Innovations first commercialized in SC can ultimately be sold across the country and around the world.
Described below is how an Innovation Collaboration Agreement (ICA) can be crafted around this opportunity using the Great Jobs Through Innovation Excellence Act (Great Jobs) Innovation Ecosystem Framework (click for a more detailed graphic).
Listen to a 5-minute radio update on SC Public radio highlighting this hydroponics innovation.
Inspiring High School Students Across SC
Normally a Research Collaboration Agreement starts with an industry and academic collaboration at the top. In the case of hydroponics, Accelerate engaging high school students broadly is core to the Agreement. Most Accelerate courses are dual-enrollment where high school students can receive as many as 52 semester hours of college credit prior to finishing high school. High school students participating in Accelerate hydroponics programs might be inspired to pursue careers in agriculture, other life sciences, or other STEM disciplines. They might also learn how to run hydroponic small businesses.
Market Pull Innovation
Market Pull Innovation requires a lead industry partner that defines a problem to be solved and provides a path to commercialization, and an academic research partner to design a project to solve the problem. Great Jobs funds the research. Clemson Extension may be able to advance the science of hydroponics in collaboration with an industry partner who matches the funding. This can take the form of an investment in the research, or an investment in an innovation center or in an entrepreneurial company that employs graduating students and others in South Carolina. GSSM already has one industry partner who provided the hydropoinc lab structure, Farmbox Foods Incorporated in Colorado. SC companies that may be willing to be an industry partner are Park Seed in Greenwood or Tyger River Farms in Reidville.
Farmbox might see the opportunity to provide hydroponic kits to high schools across SC. They may be willing to invest in an innovation center and a manufacturing center in SC to design the kits in collaboration with Clemson and GSSM and then distribute the kits across the state. Hydroponic kits might involve lessons in the science of growing fresh foods as well as the science of healthy living by consuming the foods. The kits might teach students to run small businesses to grow the food and sell their products in the community or even to their high school cafeterias.
Once this model is polished in SC, these kits could be sold to other schools across the country. Park Seed might be a great marketing partner because they already have a consumer base across the country. The kits might promote hydroponic community gardens from common spaces in suburban neighborhoods to rooftops of urban apartments.
Tyger River operates large commercial hydroponic greenhouses. In addition to working with Clemson, Tyger River could work with the non-profit Feed and Seed, which helps farmers comply with government regulations required to serve institutional customers like grocery stores, hospitals, and educational institutions. Once operating well in SC, this could also be grown across the country.
An Agreement requires a lead technical college partner to train the workforce required to produce hydroponic kits or operate hydroponic greenhouses. The technical college may work closely with the academic research partner in designing the required curriculum.
The Agreement needs to include economic development agencies and entrepreneurial support organizations that can provide the incentives, funding, and assistance to grow operations in and ultimately beyond SC. This might include economic development incentives to create and grow the innovation, manufacturing, and greenhouse operations. It might also include SC Launch or Venture South helping Tyger River obtain significant venture capital to expand its operations to serve institutional customers nationally.
A Research Collaboration Agreement is a tool to pull together industry and educational institutions from universities to K-12, as well as economic development agencies and entrepreneurial support organizations. The Agreements help develop a consensus about how collectively the participants can advance the innovation, commercialize it in the marketplace, train the needed workforce, and broadly serve a diverse population in South Carolina.
South Carolina can become a national leader in hydroponic farming with programs that inspire high school students to pursue STEM careers, that teach them, their families, and their communities the benefits of healthy living, and give students a foundation in entrepreneurship that serves them well throughout their lives.