Two years ago, we shared a map of the Ag Biotech Market that showed 245 startups working in plant and animal biotechnology. Since that original map, we’ve continued to track the market and, this year found a stunning doubling of investment dollars – $6.9 billion across 385 companies, compared to $3.4 billion in 245 companies in 2017. This investment is robust, despite the protracted negative agricultural cycle and massive impacts from trade tariffs.
From our original research (also published at AgFunder), we knew the market was dynamic and complex. We held our focus to Agricultural biotechnology start-ups founded since 1995 in the broad category of farm innovations made with biology and chemistry. Our list includes genetics, breeding, animal health and more.
TechAccel, a technology and venture development organization, focuses on global challenges in plant and animal science. We source innovations and fund scientific advancement and accelerate commercialization of breakthrough technology. We monitor and track investments in agtech, animal health and food technology, as well keep close tabs on research and innovations in our focus areas.
The new additions to our list – 140 companies – are new startups and in some cases, newly emergent firms that had been operating under the radar. We used a variety of techniques to find the companies in our list, but not all startups have financial disclosures filed, high-profile investors or even homes in prominent accelerators and mentoring programs. We are certain the true total of investment dollars in our 385 companies will be far greater than the $6.9 billion we uncovered.
The additional $3.5 billion-plus total invested across new and existing companies in plant and animal biotech in the past two years is a testament to the growing field and big bets on biotechnology.
Please note: We do not represent this as exhaustive – we know new companies appear every day, and others that pivot from original plans into new areas. We’ve done our best to include all relevant companies and welcome your assistance to improve the data. Please contact us if you believe your firm should be included or information corrected.
Healthy Acquisitions and Exits
While the growth is impressive, there have also been some exciting exits for ag biotech startups – a further validation of the market’s potential. Consider, for example, these prominent acquisitions:
We also documented a handful of noteworthy initial public offerings, including:
The Larger Sector: Plant Biotech
As in the last iteration of the map, Plant Biotech attracted the most new entries. We identified more than 20 start-ups in the Plant Biotech space, or 56 percent of our total 2019 universe.
Most of these target crop protection – using either genetic, biological, or chemical methods.
Given the advancements in gene editing technology and the US ruling that gene edited crops do not inherently qualify as GMO, new players have joined the gene editing space, including Pairwise and PlantEdit. We expect this area to grow further as new tools and techniques in gene editing are invented.
Crop protection, via biologicals and chemicals, continues to be active, with new companies RNAissance Ag(disclosure: TechAccel is part owner), Enko Chem, Pheronym, IBI-Ag, and Impetus Ag all on the scene, generally with focuses on insect pests. New start-ups in plant biotech are largely found in the United States – just one in Israel and one in the UK – most likely due to the stricter regulations on genetic biotechnology in the European Union.
In addition, we found growth in companies leveraging bacteria, fungus, biostimulants and biologicals to increase plant nutrient uptake and growth and to prevent disease. The newest of these include Intrinsyx Bio, Biointrant, and Lavie Bio. As tolerance to abiotic or non-biological stress (such as heat tolerance, soil salinity, or nutrient efficiency) becomes increasingly important, look for new companies to continue to capitalize on symbiotic relationships between microbes and plants.
Finally, we note continued growth in the application of digital technologies into plant physiology, especially involving AI, machine learning or machine vision, and monitoring technologies to build knowledge earlier of traits for breeding selection. For example, companies in this space include BreedX, EarthSense, Seed-X Technologies, and Plant-DiTech.
Steadily Rising: Animal Biotech
Although not quite as large, the Animal Biotech category is robust and full of exciting companies to watch. We noted a 15 percent increase in animal biotech startups from 2017 to 2019. A common theme seems to be making animal feed more sustainable, with FYTO (focused on plant-based feed production) and Hargol FoodTech (insect protein for livestock). Both launched in 2019. And there are several companies focused on insect protein for aquaculture, livestock and companion animal feed, including VakSea, and Nasekomo.
Livestock and companion animal health and disease prevention continue to be hot areas of innovation and start-ups, as novel vaccines and biologics draw investment capital. In this space, see Prosper Animal Healthand Verovaccines, both new since 2017.
Aquaculture continues to grow as an industry for biological and chemical innovation: IctioBiotic, Minnowtech, Savitri Aquamonk, and Prometheus Progeniture Genetics Technologies are all new to the space. These new players are spread worldwide, including the US, Canada, Chile, India, the UK, and Germany.
Our listing – with acknowledgement that it is not comprehensive – shows evidence of a robust ecosystem in plant and animal biotechnology startups and investors willing to bet on agtech innovations. As part of that ecosystem, we extend a welcome: there’s room for more innovation, investors and solutions.
TechAccel associates Katie Murphy and Stephen Keough collaborated on the update to this report.
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