Boston Gets Buggy
Charlestown is the blue-collar Boston neighborhood best known as a setting for such films as Mystic River and Good Will Hunting. Not exactly the sort of place you’d expect to find the city’s next hotshot startup, let alone one promising to significantly increase the crop yields of agricultural staples like wheat and cotton.
And yet, there is Indigo Agriculture, which has converted part of an old Charlestown milk bottling plant into a headquarters that melds open office decor with top-end lab equipment and “grow rooms” whose LED lights are so bright that visitors must wear sunglasses.
Today, the company is announcing that it has raised $100 million in new venture capital funding led by the Alaska Permanent Fund, and that its initial product has been planted on more than 50,000 acres of cotton crop in five states.
Indigo is led by president and CEO David Perry, a serial entrepreneur who previously co-founded and led Anacor Pharmaceuticals (acquired earlier this year by Pfizer for $5.2 billion). After leaving Anacor in March 2014, Perry began to turn his attention to food. It was something he’d given a lot of attention to in his personal life, due to a family history of heart disease, and he determined that there were three big food issues facing the world:
1. How to produce more food.
2. How to make that food healthier and more sustainable.
3. How to change eating behaviors.
At around the same time, venture capital firm Flagship Ventures was incubating Indigo based on the research of partner and Seres Therapeutics founder Geoff Von Maltzahn (who serves as Indigo’s chief technology officer), who was looking at agricultural bacteria from a different perspective.
“There has been a lot of microbial research in terms of increasing crop production, but most of it has focused on what’s in the soil,” says Perry, who believes Indigo addresses the first two of his three big food issues. “But it’s very hard to separate what’s actually helping the plant, and what’s just there. If you want to know what microbials are important to plants, look inside the plants.”
That’s what Indigo has done. It has examined ancestral seeds and modern crops that have outperformed in difficult environments, such as drought. And it has sequenced tens of thousands of microbials, learning which ones can be used to improve crop yields from both abiotic (e.g., water, salinity, heat) and biotic (e.g., fungi, insets, weeds) perspectives.
Indigo’s first product is aimed at improving water use efficiency of cotton crops, with the company arguing that its application can increase yields by between 5% and 20%. What’s particularly important about that claim is that Indigo, unlike other microbial providers, doesn’t charge farmers up-front. Instead, the company itself pays to have a farmer’s seed coated, and then only receives payment once yield increases are realized in the fields (by using a small untreated crop as a control group).
“We’re trying to change the business model, particularly because farmers already have very tight margins,” Perry explains. “We will send out people and use drones to look at the crops, but mostly it’s in our interest to trust the farmers, and I’ve found them to generally be very trustworthy people.”
Tyler McClendon of Oxbow Agriculture, who has put Indigo’s product on over 1,000 acres of his land in Arkansas, adds that if the product proves effective come September harvest, the business model will encourage other farmers to sign on. “There’s no risk to us, and that sort of innovation in business model is just as important as its technical innovation,” McClendon says. “Usually we have to pay whether it works or not.”
Indigo aims to eventually take major market share from incumbent agricultural giants like Monsanto and Bayer, which Perry argues are trying to use M&A to grow instead of R&D. Such a goal is a tall order, which is why the new funding from Alaska Permanent Fund, a very deep pocket with $54 billion, is so vital.
“We need long-term investors because this isn’t for most traditional venture capitalists,” he says.
To date, Indigo has raised over $163 million. Flagship Ventures re-upped for the latest round, and Indigo also received investments from several undisclosed “long-term” investors that Perry suggested were mutual funds and/or family offices.
THE BIG DEAL
• BC Partners is in exclusive talks to acquire a majority stake in Keter Plastic, an Israeli maker of outdoor furniture, according to Reuters. The deal could be valued at around $1.6 billion. Read more.
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• Deposit Solutions GmbH, a German fintech startup focused on the European retail deposit market, has raised €15 million in VC funding at a €110 million valuation. Backers include Valar Ventures, FinLab and Greycroft Partners. www.deposit-solutions.de
• Mywish Marketplaces, an India-based online portal to compare retail loans, has raised $15 million in new VC funding from Franklin Templeton. Read more.
• Redis Labs, an open-source data structure store, has raised $14 million in Series C funding. Bain Capital Ventures and Carmel Ventures co-led the round, and were joined by return backers like Silicon Valley Bank. Read more.
• CargoX, a Brazil-based provider of on-demand trucking services, has raised $10 million in Series B funding. Goldman Sachs led the round, and was joined by Valor Capital Group and return backers like Agility Logistics and Lumia Capital. www.cargox.com/br
• N-of-One, a Lexington, Mass.-based precision medicine oncology decision support company, has raised $7 million in Series B funding from Providence Ventures and Excel Venture Management. www.n-of-one.com
• ReviewTrackers, a Chicago-based customer feedback platform, has raised $4 million in growth equity funding led by American Family Ventures. The company also secured a $2.1 million debt facility from Square 1 Bank. www.reviewtrackers.com
• Stardog, a Washington, D.C.-based enterprise data unification platform, has raised $2.3 million in seed funding led by Core Capital and Boulder Ventures. www.stardog.com
Correction: Sprinklr’s $105 million Series F round was led by Temasek. Apologies for yesterday’s error. Read more.
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• 3PL Central, a Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based provider of third party logistics and warehouse management software, has acquired Traker Systems, a provider of cloud-based inventory control software. No financial terms were disclosed. 3PL Central is a portfolio company of Mainsail Partners. www.3plcentral.com
• Deltek, a Herndon, Va.-based portfolio company of Thoma Bravo, has acquired Union Square Software, a UK-based provider of project information and collaboration software for the architecture, engineering and construction markets. No financial terms were disclosed. www.deltek.com
• GSR Capital of China is part of an investor consortium that is in advanced talks to acquire an 80% stake in Italian football club A.C. Milan at an enterprise value of around €700 million (including debt), according to the WSJ. Read more.
• Vantage Specialty Chemicals Inc., a Chicago-based portfolio company of The Jordan Co., has agreed to acquire Mallet and Company, a Pittsburgh-based provider of baking release agents. No financial terms were disclosed. www.vantagespecialties.com
• Impinj Inc., a Seattle-based provider of UHF RFID solutions, raised $67 million in its IPO. The company priced 4.8 million shares at $14 per share, compared to original plans to offer 4.6 million shares at between $12 and $14 per share. It will trade on the Nasdaq under ticker symbol PI, while RBC Capital Markets, Pacific Crest Securities and Piper Jaffray served as lead underwriters. Impinj reports a $2.33 million net loss on around $21.6 million in revenue for Q1 2016. The company (which originally tried to go public in 2012) had raised $138 million in VC funding since its 2000 inception, from firms like Arch Venture Partners (10.7% pre-IPO stake), Polaris Partners (9.9%), Madrona Venture Group (9.4%), Mobius Venture Capital (9.2%), Intel Capital (8.1%), GF Private Equity (7%) and AllianceBernstein (5.8%). www.impinj.com
• Expedia (Nasdaq: EXPE) has acquired Trover, a Seattle-based platform for travel and photo enthusiast communities. No financial terms were disclosed. Trover had raised around $12 million in VC funding from firms like Benchmark, Concur Technologies and General Catalyst Partners. Read more.
• The Kroger Co. (NYSE: KR) has agreed to acquire Modern HC Holdings Inc., an Orlando-based specialty pharmacy, from Altamont Capital. No financial terms were disclosed. www.modernhealthinc.com
• BYD (HK: 1211), a Chinese auto and rechargeable battery company, has selling a $450 million equity stake to Samsung Electronics. Read more.
• F.N.B. Corp. (NYSE: FNB) is in advanced talks to acquire Yadkin Financial (NYSE: YDKN), a Raleigh, N.C.-based commercial bank with a market cap of around $1.33 billion, according to Reuters. Read more.
• Galenica (Swiss: GALN) has agreed to acquire Relypsa (Nasdaq: RLYP), a Redwood City, Calif.-based developer of polymeric medicines, for $1.53 billion in cash, or $32 per share (59% premium to yesterday’s closing price). Read more.
• Mondelez International Inc. (Nasdaq: MDLZ) is in talks to buy the license to make Cadbury biscuits from Burton’s Biscuits Co., according to Sky News. Read more.
• Temasek has agreed to acquire the more than 45% stake it does not already hold in Singapore-listed public transport company SMRT Corp. for around $869 million. Read more.
FIRMS & FUNDS
• True Ventures has filed with the SEC to raise upwards of $175 million for its second select fund, which focuses on later-stage investments. www.trueventures.com
• Velocis, a Dallas-based private equity real estate manager, has closed its second fund with more than $270 million in capital commitments. www.velocis.com
MOVING IN, ON & UP
• Rachael Horwitz has joined Spark Capital as the firm’s first marketing and communications partner. She previously was director of tech communications for Facebook. www.sparkcapital.com
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