Monsanto’s venture capital (VC) arm today announced for the first time its growing investment portfolio, which includes nearly a dozen independent companies that are active in key areas of agricultural productivity, digital agriculture and biologicals.
The VC entity, Monsanto Growth Ventures (MGV), released the information in conjunction with Monsanto’s annual research and development pipeline overview.
“Entrepreneurs are more engaged with the food and agriculture sector than ever before,” said John Hamer, Managing Director of MGV. “We believe MGV provides collaborative access to one of the most innovative agriculture companies, as well as deep venture capital experience within our team.”
MGV has led or co-led all but two of its investments and counts more than 50 different co-investors in its portfolio. The investments range from structured buyouts, to syndicated venture capital investments syndicated with leading venture capital firms. All of them are independently run companies in which where MGV is a minority shareholder.
“We see tremendous potential for transformational advances in agriculture, which is why we are collaborating with Monsanto Growth Ventures to boost startups like Plant Response Biotech,” said Dr. Scott Horner, Managing Director with Middleland Capital, a co-investor with MGV. “We have a front-row seat for innovation, and it’s encouraging to see both industry leaders and the investment community rally to support it.”
Part of Monsanto’s commitment to bringing new technologies to agriculture is recognizing other innovators the company can work with to deliver solutions for farmer customers. “Venture capital investing is a natural outgrowth of Monsanto’s long history of partnering for outside innovation, and we will continue to look for creative deal structures, partnerships and investments that can improve the lives and practices of growers everywhere,” said Hamer.
Many of the companies in which MGV has invested complement Monsanto’s integrated systems approach. This approach will help increase efficiencies in agriculture, and brings together breeding, biotechnology, biologicals, digital agriculture and agronomic practices to give growers better tools and technologies to support global food production.
The top three criteria for selecting companies for investment were: 1) the strategic opportunity represented by the company; 2) a founding team with exceptional vision, passion and commitment to agriculture; and 3) fulfilling key requirements for a venture capital investment including the appropriate return on capital. MGV has also sourced digital agriculture acquisitions for Monsanto, including The Climate Corporation, YieldPop, Solum and 640Labs.
Among the MGV investments are:
Arvegenix is a St. Louis, Mo., company transforming field pennycress into a commercially viable cover crop service, while also producing an energy and feed crop. Cover crop adoption can drive greater profitability and sustainability for farmers, and also provide a cultivation option between corn and soy rotations.
Nimbus-Ceres is a jointly owned entity with Nimbus Therapeutics in Cambridge, Mass., to co-develop agricultural fungicides. Nimbus-Ceres combines Nimbus’ validated computational platform and innovative research tools with Monsanto’s agriculture testing capabilities to develop broad-spectrum fungicides.
AgSolver, based in Ames, Iowa, develops software and analytic systems for supporting more sustainable land management, valuation and business planning.
Vital Fields, based in Tallinn, Estonia, is a company with the simplest farm management system in the business, and helps European growers maximize their farm efficiencies. The company manages everything from field books to compliance to farm activities, and will be providing farm analytics to help growers make data-driven decisions.
HydroBio provides prescriptive irrigation recommendations by creating a layered data product via a mobile platform, to conserve water and increase yields. It is focused on irrigated acres of major row crops, and has helped Monsanto reduce its water footprint for seed production. The company is based in Denver, Colo.
On the forefront of robotic farming, Blue River Technology in Sunnyvale, Calif., uses computer vision and machine learning for precision weeding and the application of herbicides. Blue River is moving agriculture towards a world where every plant is detected and treated individually.
Based in Cambridge, Mass., Preceres accesses technology from MIT to develop delivery agents to support the development of biological solutions for farmers. Preceres possesses a large diverse chemical library of 2,300+ compounds/biomaterials.
AgBiome discovers and develops biologicals, traits and innovative biofungicide products that it commercializes directly and through partnerships. The company is headquartered in Research Triangle Park, N.C.
Cambridge, Mass.-based RaNA Therapeutics develops RNA-targeted molecules that selectively target protein expression.
PivotBio is an Emeryville, Calif., company focused on innovation rooted in the crop microbiome. Pivot is improving agricultural microbial strains to increase crop productivity.
Based in Madrid, Spain, Plant Response Biotech offers a promising pipeline of natural products and microbes for crop health and yield that deliver more value to the grower around biotic and abiotic stress tolerance.
As it continues to build out its venture portfolio, MGV will continue looking for promising teams and ideas in agriculture, while aiding the development of cross-over technologies that could benefit agriculture.
“Working with Monsanto Growth Ventures has brought significant value to our firm as we chart our next phase of growth and look into moving our robotic machines from vegetables to row crops,” said Jorge Heraud, CEO of Blue River Technology. “Having a partner with global reach that is willing to make introductions opens doors for us. I’m excited about our ability to take our technology to more places than we could have done alone.”