Australian farm operator leads $3m raise for US biotech start-up – exclusive

By using microbes to improve crop resilience, the company hopes to drive sustainable yield improvements.

The Australian farm operator, Twynam Agriculture Group, has led a $3.2 million funding round for US biotech startup, Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies (AST), Agri Investor has learned. The raise was organised through online agriculture investment platform AgFunder.

AST had already secured commitments from a group of accredited investors when it approached AgFunder for help in reaching its $3.1 million target, according to co-founder and head of marketing at AgFunder Melissa Tilney. It started its funding effort on the site in summer 2015.

AST’s flagship product is BioEnsure, a microbial seed coating that improves plant resistance to extreme weather condition. The company reached a distribution agreement for the product with Dutch-based Incotec last November and is scheduled to roll it out to corn growers this month. It then plans to expand to other crops and markets, according to Tilney.

The Twynam funding will influence AST’s expansion. The group operates roughly 50,000 hectares of land in New South Wales, producing cotton, corn, grains, oilseed and livestock.

“[Cotton] is one crop that they’re expediting trials of as a result of Twynam being a part of the deal,” said Tilney

The Series A financing will also go towards opening a subsidiary in India by the end of 2016. AST plans to distribute BioEnsure commercially through regional seed distributors, while also developing private label products for multi-national companies.

AST bills its products as a socially conscious, sustainable means of increasing crop yields in hostile or unpredictable climates. Rather than chemical pesticides, the company’s products rely on the use of fungi called endophytes, which it says can improve plant resistance to a variety of stresses.

“The technology seems solid and we can see significant impacts on producers in many areas, especially the more variable climatic areas such as Australia,” said Johnny Kahlbetzer, founder of Twynam Group, in a statement.

The funding round was organized through AgFunder, which connects investors with agri and agtech start-ups. The site offers its members online access to business plans and other offering materials.

Minimum investment in the raise was $25,000, which Tilney said is standard for direct investments through the site, although it also sometimes helps create pooled investment vehicles with a minimum investment requirement of $5,000. Tilney declined to share the size of the transaction fee paid to AgFunder by AST, citing company policy.

Since April 2014, AgFunder has brokered funding rounds ranging between $350,000 to $7 million for 14 companies, for a total of $32 million.