Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Makes First Agtech Investment
Biological crop protection company AgBiome has attracted the attention of the world’s largest foundation and arguably a leader in venture philanthropy in its recent Series B round of funding.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed to the crop microbiome researcher’s $34.5 million round of fundraising alongside another two new investors, The University of Texas Investment Management Company and the Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Fund.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which also counts Warren Buffett as a trustee, invested into the round due to its potential impact on developing market food production.
“Poor farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia face tremendous hurdles, such as unproductive soil, plant diseases, pests and drought,” said Vipula Shukla, senior program officer at the foundation in a statement. “This investment will ensure that AgBiome’s expertise is applied to creating new, affordable tools for these farmers that will protect their staple crops from pests and diseases.”
This is the foundation’s first direct agtech investment, although it has made other direct investments into agriculture-related projects in the past and will continue to look at the agtech sector, a spokesperson told AgFunderNews.
“We look at all technologies that can play a role in increasing productivity for smallholder farmers (for example, inputs including new varieties and post harvest strategies), decreasing volatility and risk (for example disease and pest control) and increasing nutrition,” she said. “We also have a livestock strategy focused on improving animal health and productivity. We look at bringing existing technologies to smallholder farmers where applicable and also developing new technologies where they don’t exist.”
AgBiome, which claims to have compiled “the world’s largest collection of fully-sequenced and annotated microbes from the crop microbiome”, also caught the eye of Monsanto Growth Ventures, which first invested into the startup at its $17.5 million Series A in 2013. AgBiome is a strategic investment for Monsanto, which splits its portfolio into two sections: potential partnerships and other agtech innovations (to keep the firm abreast of innovations beyond its business), according to John Hamer, venture principal at Monsanto.
“AgBiome is clearly a group that’s very strategic for us and we’re ready to test their product and partner with them in significant way,” he told AgFunderNews. “They are a high quality team addressing a big market need, with interesting ideas and approaches to solve problems.”
Hamer compared AgBiome with others in the space arguing that its closest competitors do not have the same trait capabilities that the Raleigh, North Caroline-based company does. Strategic investments like this make up about 60 percent of Monsanto’s venture portfolio, which runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Other existing investors Series A that re-invested in the Series B round were Polaris Partners, ARCH Venture Partners, Harris & Harris Group, Innotech Advisers and Syngenta Ventures.