Davis ag biotech startup lands $15 million from Bay Area venture capital firms

Published: Tuesday, Apr. 8, 2014 - 12:00 am

A Davis-based agricultural biotechnology company’s work has drawn the attention of two Bay Area venture capital firms, to the tune of $15 million.

BioConsortia Inc. announced Monday that the Series B funding is from Menlo Park-based Khosla Ventures and Palo Alto-based Otter Capital LLC. The company said the two firms “participated equally” in the funding round.

BioConsortia says the capital will help accelerate its plans to commercialize the use of microbe communities as seed treatments and soil additives. It also plans to build partnerships with seed, fertilizer and crop production companies.

The Davis company has developed a proprietary system that uses advanced microbial selection and the latest genomic techniques to define products for specific crop improvement traits. It relies on what is known as microbial consortia, which are elements of natural communities of bacteria and fungi.

BioConsortia, which was founded this year, said its system quickly identifies the best microbial communities that can improve plant traits and increase crop yield. The system is touted as an alternative to mixing individually identified microbes and does not rely on genetic modification.

The startup company says the system rapidly identifies the right consortia and can apply to both conventional and genetically modified crops.

“There is substantial opportunity for BioConsortia to help transform agricultural production around the world,” said Marcus Meadows-Smith, BioConsortia’s CEO. “It’s gratifying to win the ongoing support of sophisticated investors like Khosla Ventures and Otter Capital.”

BioConsortia was established to further develop and commercialize the microbial consortia of BioDiscovery New Zealand Ltd., which was founded in 1994 and is now identified as a BioConsortia subsidiary. BioDiscovery previously worked with national and international ag entities, including Monsanto Co. and AgraQuest. In 2010, New Zealand-based BioDiscovery secured its own investment from Khosla Ventures.

Andrew Chung, partner at Khosla, said, “Since providing the seed investment in the BioConsortia technology, we’ve been strong believers in the opportunity to dramatically increase agricultural production with smaller resource requirements. This (research and development) platform will accelerate innovation in agriculture and enable the industry to operate in even more environmentally sensitive ways.”

Meadows-Smith is a former CEO of AgraQuest, the Davis-based firm that was bought in 2012 by Bayer CropScience for more than $400 million. Former AgraQuest exec Christina Huben is BioConsortia’s vice president of operations and administration.

“It is a pleasure to invest again in the agricultural microbial industry in support of two former executives of AgraQuest.” said John Pasquesi, managing member of Otter Capital LLC and former chairman of the board of AgraQuest. “The combination of a growing industry, BioConsortia’s differentiated technology and management’s demonstrated record of success make this a compelling opportunity.”

Both Khosla Ventures and Otter Capital have previously provided funding to various agriculture technology and food-production companies in California.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.

Read more articles by Mark Glover

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