Eggbiome, developing products from microbial communities, was brought in in a $116 million Series D round as the company prepares to pad its pipeline with new products.
The company, based in Research Triangle Park, NC, was founded in 2012 by a group including co-CEOs Scott Uknes and Eric Ward, who have known each other for more than 30 years. They created the OriginSearch platform to capture diverse microbes for agricultural applications such as crop protection, and screen strains for the best assays that work for pest, disease and nematode control.
“The world of microbes is huge,” said Uknes, who pointed out that there are estimated to be a trillion microbes, but only 1% have been discovered. Previously discovered microbes are used by humans for things like pharmaceuticals, food, and agriculture. AgBiome built its database to house more than 100,000 microbes in Genesis and each genome in each microbe was sequenced in hundreds of strains.
The company randomly selects strains and looks for the best family of strains with a certain activity, such as inhibiting fungus on strawberries, and creating the product.
Its first fungicide product, Hauler, was launched last year and works on more than 300 crop-disease combinations. The company saw 10x sales growth in 2020, Uknes told Nerdshala. As part of the farmers’ integrated pest program, they often spray the fungicide 12 times per year to produce fruit and vegetables.
Because of its safe formula, the hauler can be used as the final spray in the program, and its differentiator is a short re-entry period – farmers can spray in the morning and return to the field in the afternoon. It also has a short pre-harvesting time of four hours after application. Other fungicides on the market today require seven days before re-entry and pre-harvest, Uknes explained.
AgBiome aims to add a second fungicide product, Theia, in early 2022, while a third, Esendo, was submitted for Environmental Protection Agency registration. Uknes expects to have 11 products by 2025, which will also expand into pesticides and herbicides.
The oversubscribed Series D round was led by Blue Horizon and Novalis Lifesciences and included a number of new and existing investors. The latest investment brings AgBiome more than $200 million in total funding to date. The company’s last funding round was a $65 million Series C Picked up in 2018.
While competitors in synthetic biology often sell their companies to someone who can manufacture their products, Uknes said AgBiome decided to manufacture and commercialize the products, something they needed to be able to do. Proud of your team.
“We want to feed the world responsibly, and these products have the potential to substitute for synthetic chemicals and provide a way for producers to protect their crops, especially when consumers want natural, sustainable equipment,” he said. .
The company has grown to more than 100 employees and will use the new funding to accelerate production of its two new products, build its manufacturing capacity in North America, and expand its footprint internationally. Uknes estimates that the workforce will increase to 300 in the next five years.
AgBiome expects to roll out some of the smaller companies that have a product in production in addition to their organic growth to expand their pipeline. As a result, Uknes said he was particular about the kind of investment partners that would work best toward that goal.
Przemek Obloj, managing partner at Blue Horizon, was introduced to the company by existing investors. His firm has an impact fund focused on the future of food and began investing in alternative proteins in 2016, before expanding its delivery system into agricultural technology, he said.
Obloj said AgBiome is operating in a $60 billion market where problems include products that inject toxic chemicals into the ground that end up in water systems. The solution would be not to do so, but not to do so would mean that production also doesn’t increase, he said.
Changes in technology in agriculture are enabling Ucknes and Ward to do something that was not possible 10 years ago because there was not enough computation or storage power to find and sequence microbes.
“We don’t want to pollute the Earth, but we have to find a way to feed 9 billion people by 2050,” Obloj said. “With the agabiome, there is an alternative way to protect crops than to pollute the earth or pose a health risk.”