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Looking for the 'Next Big Thing' at Food and Agriculture Conference in Memphis


A major conference exploring innovations in food and agriculture is underway in Memphis.

“Davos on the Delta” borrows its name from the the world economic summit that takes place annually in Davos, Switzerland.

The Memphis event may not attract world leaders, but it does pull in hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, farmers and innovators, all talking about the next big breakthrough in agriculture and food.

Conference co-founder John Santi says the Bluff City is an ideal place for these conversations.

“The reality of it is there are very few places in the world that has this many growing acres with a transportation system that we have,” Santi says. “That Mississippi River, going through some of our most fertile land in the world, is a true blessing that we take for granted.

Co-founder Carter Williams says that predicting the future of agriculture means asking pertinent questions now -- including questions of sustainability and nutritional trends.

“Have we reached a point where we understand that the food system needs to change to be more nutritious?” he says.

Entrepreneurs like Ed Rogers say the answer is yes. He's CEO of Bonumose, a startup that manufactures rare types of sugars called tagatose and allulose.

“There are lots of methods of trying to replace sugar and high fructose corn syrup because people want to eat healthier, but they cannot give up sweet stuff,” he says.

Rogers, who presented on a panel dedicated to start-ups, says that because naturally-occurring tagatose and allulose are metabolized differently in the body than products like corn syrup, using them could contribute to lower levels of blood sugar.

For Virgina Emery the conference provides a platform for her to talk about her three-year-old company, Beta Hatch, which is industrializing the farming of insects to be used for agricultural purposes such as animal feed and crop fertilizer.

“I would not be surprised if there’s close to a billion dollars or more of investor capital that’s deployable in the room,” she says. “These investors are looking for the next opportunities, the next big thing.”