Having access to world-class research labs and facilities is a dream of many plant and bioscience startup companies. One facility in our very own Show-Me State is making those dreams come true.

Located in St. Louis, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is the largest independent research institute in the world focusing on plant science.

The facility was founded in 1998 by Dr. William H. Danforth, who wanted to put a stake in the ground in Missouri to leverage the state’s existing strengths in plant research, commerce, and agriculture.

The overall mission of the Danforth Center is to “improve the human condition through plant science,” which includes three main points – feed the hungry and improving human health, preserve and renewing the environment, and enhancing the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science.

A note from MTC Director Bill Anderson

“It’s a really incredible thing to be able to say that Missouri is home to the largest plant science research institute in the world, and even more incredible to say that it has a separate research park designed specifically for startups. BRDG Park at the Danforth Center is an invaluable contribution to our state’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, and its effects are being felt not only in St. Louis and across Missouri but all over the world.”

MTC Executive Director Bill Anderson

“We use plants and plant science as a vehicle to provide solutions for the world,” said Danforth Center COO and BRDG Research Park President Sam Fiorello.

The building officially opened in 2001 and provides top-of-the-line research and training facilities where its scientists strive to accomplish the mission.

Through its biofuels institute, Danforth Center scientists are looking for ways to create green and sustainable fuels that will help dampen the negative environmental effects of a petroleum-based economy.

This would then lead to ways for farmers across the world to yield more crop per unit of input, meaning less fertilizer, fresh water, and topsoil used and more food produced.

“Research is an activity, and the outcomes are jobs, technologies, products, and services that people can use either on the back of their tractors or to feed their families dinner,” Fiorello said.

Speaking of creating jobs, the Danforth Center is also committed to doing just that, specifically through its Bio Research & Development Growth Park (BRDG Park, pronounced Bridge Park).

BRDG Park opened in 2009 as building one of what will eventually be a three-building research park.

Offering world-class wet labs, office space, and an on-site workforce development and training program, BRDG Park aims to provide emerging life science and clean-tech startups with the tools they need to succeed.

BRDG Park building one is nearly full, housing about 15 companies and enterprises from the St. Louis region and another 15 from different countries around the world.

“We from the very beginning wanted both a place for the homegrown to grow up and grow their businesses and also an attractant to bring new jobs to the region,” Fiorello said.

Job growth has certainly been an area of success for both BRDG Park and the Danforth Center as a whole.

In mid-2001, there was not a single job on site. Today, there are 250 employees in the Danforth Center and 300 in BRDG Park.

The Danforth Center has the capacity to add 100 more scientists in its second wing and 700 to 800 more jobs in BRDG Park once all three phases are complete.

Much of this growth is made possible by investors like the Missouri Technology Corporation (MTC).

MTC invests in the Danforth Center through its grant program Missouri Building Entrepreneurial Capacity, or MOBEC, which aims to enhance the capacity of non-profit organizations that support entrepreneurs as well as the capacity of Missouri to grow its innovation economy.

“I can’t stress enough how important MTC is to us succeeding in our aspiration to create new jobs in the state,” Fiorello said.

Fiorello also noted that MTC is a vital source of support not just for the Danforth Center alone but also for companies in BRDG Park.

“We can point to several companies here, both homegrown and imports, that have had MTC funding in their early years, and that is key to their growth and success,” he said.

Moving forward, the Danforth Center’s plans are really quite simple – keep doing what they’re doing.

Fiorello said the facility will continue to recruit the best scientists from around the world, make new discoveries, create jobs new jobs in the region, and ultimately strengthen and advance its global leadership and position as the best plant research institution in the world.