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NovaUCD-based agritech start-up CropBiome secures €1.3m investment

Posted 26 July, 2022

Agritech start-up (opens in a new window)CropBiome has secured €1.3 million in investment as it looks to accelerate its use of microbes to treat crop seeds to produce healthier plants and reduce fertiliser requirements.

A joint UCD and TCD spin-out, the company aims to use the funds to scale its team amid plans to carry out trials with major seed distributors in Europe’s largest grain markets - the UK, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Germany, France and Spain.

This latest investment was announced by (opens in a new window)Halo Business Angel Network (HBAN), the all-island organisation responsible for the promotion of business angel investment, and a joint initiative of (opens in a new window)Enterprise Ireland(opens in a new window)InterTradeIreland and (opens in a new window)Invest Northern Ireland.

It said that HBAN angels had participated in an oversubscribed €1.3M funding round in the Agritech start-up, with angels from HBAN Singapore and HBAN Bloom Equity syndicate investing €405K in the business, with other investments coming from lead investor DeepIE Ventures Management Company Ltd and Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-Ups Funding.

Based at NovaUCD, CropBiome sources, selects, ferments, characterises and tests microbes derived from wild plant species that are formulated into biological products such as seed dressings for use in agriculture, with the aim to help farmers reduce dependence on chemicals and fertilisers for growing healthy crops, even in drought conditions.

A combination of field and greenhouse crop trials have shown that the seed dressings can improve crops’ performance in drought conditions, and when fertiliser use is reduced. This results in reduced chemical inputs, enhanced crop resilience and improved soil health – all providing targeted economic benefits to farmers.

“Pressure is mounting on food producers across the world to move to a more sustainable food model,” said Sean Daly, CropBiome CEO.

“A key aim of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy is to reduce chemical use in agriculture – including fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides. It also targets the reduction of nutrient losses by at least 50%, while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility. The European Commission has indicated that a reduction in fertiliser use of at least 20% by 2030 will be needed to achieve these targets across the EU.

“CropBiome’s product development and market entry strategy is aligned to help meet these targets. Initially, we will aggressively tackle the European grain market – which represents a significant proportion of the world’s total grain production – with our unique sustainable biological solutions, which are the result of five years of extensive scientific research by our founders Prof. (opens in a new window)Fiona Doohan at UCD and Prof. Trevor Hodkinson and Dr Brian Murphy at TCD. We aim to enter the market at a similar price point as existing chemical seed coating products with our biological sustainable alternative and believe that this will give us a major competitive advantage. By 2025, we expect that our success in Europe will enable us to expand into North and South America, Australasia and other cereal-producing regions and countries.

He added: “We are delighted to take on this seed round funding, which will help us to accelerate the commercial development of our products. The funding from HBAN angels, as well as their guidance, has been strategically very important to us as we seek to grow our team and look ahead to Series A funding in 2024. Our funders have valuable in-depth industry knowledge and truly believe in our product and the real-world, environmental impact that it will have.”

Dr. Daniel Kearney, Chair, HBAN Singapore, said: “CropBiome is an extremely exciting biotechnology company that is solving a global problem, locally in Ireland. As a result, they have not only secured funding from investors in Ireland, but also from our Singapore HBAN syndicate and two HBAN angels in Belgium.

“The CropBiome team impressed our investors with their deep knowledge, ambition and unique solution that helps grain growers worldwide produce more sustainable and climate-resilient crops that secure our future food supply. With regions working to drive down the reliance on chemicals for crop production, CropBiome is primed to succeed in an important growth market.”

Niamh Sterling, HBAN Consultant, added: “Investment in start-ups that make a positive, real-world impact is rising. Future-looking businesses like CropBiome are solving pressing issues that will make the world a better place and that is very attractive from an angel investor’s perspective. It is rewarding in terms of returns, and also an overall sense of making a difference in the world.”

Currently, CropBiome has a biobank of more than 600 microbes, which the company is testing to determine their impact on stress resistance, nutrient use efficiency and overall crop yields.

In addition to this latest funding, together with UCD and other partners, in 2021 CropBiome successfully submitted a €1.5M Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) grant application. The Fund is run by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with administrative support from Enterprise Ireland.

CropBiome secured €500,000 of this against proposed expenditure. In 2020, it was a regional winner of InterTradeIreland’s Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations (with materials from Micéal Whelan, UCD Research and Innovation)