Benson Hill enters public market through $625m SPAC merger

Founder Matt Crisp says the plant-based protein supply chain has been the natural ‘proving ground’ for the company’s data and analytics platform, which can also support future food system trends.

Crop data and analytics provider Benson Hill has agreed to merge with Star Peak Corporation II, a special purpose acquisition company formed earlier this year by Evanston, Illinois-headquartered Magnetar Capital.

Its $625 million SPAC merger includes $403 million raised since Star Peak’s January IPO and a $225 million private investment in public equity offering from a group that included Lazard and BlackRock, among others.

Chief executive and founder Matt Crisp told Agri Investor that all of Benson Hill’s existing investors – which have included CDPQ, Bunge, Google, and S2G Ventures, among others – have elected to roll over their entire stakes into the entity that will trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol BHIL. The deal is expected to close during the third quarter.

“This, in many respects – for us and probably for some other companies, that are undertaking the same process – is a financing event to fuel growth. It’s not being viewed as: ‘this is my exit opportunity’,” said Crisp soon after the deal was announced in early May. “The public markets are being viewed by the strategics as a way to participate in technology-driven trends.”

Benson Hill’s main offering is CropOS, a data and analytics platform that uses environmental model algorithms to enable phenotyping and breeding of seeds with specific productivity, nutrition, sustainability and taste attributes. Crisp said the SPAC merger will allow Benson Hill to accelerate existing commercialization efforts related to its ultra-high protein soybean varieties and advance other applications of the system.

Late last year, St Louis-headquartered Benson Hill raised $150 million in a Series D round that included investments by Wheatsheaf, Fall Line Capital, LDC Innovations and others.

Crisp said Benson Hill has been approached by numerous prospective partners this year. In addition to general interest in food and ag related technology, he said, investors have been particularly receptive to the company’s offerings as an opportunity to support technology with potential for impact throughout food supply chains.

“You have Beyond Meat on the market and a couple of these other plant-based food stories, really more with a [consumer packaged goods] slant to them, but what Benson Hill was bringing – and we got really positive feedback on – is a brand-agnostic investment opportunity in major food system trends,” he explained. “One of those leading trends, has been in the alternative protein category, of course.”

Crisp said Benson Hill will look to make investments in its supply chain that could include facilities, technology or partnerships related to processing its high-protein soybean varieties. He added that while creating seeds that help increase the sustainability of alternative proteins has been the natural focus and “proving ground” of the company’s CropOS data and analytics platform, it can also be used to support other food system goals.

“The next wave of food trends and investible opportunities that should be approaching public markets in the medium-to-long term would be the ‘food is health’ consumer movement. You are seeing companies pop up in the private markets now that are embracing, notionally, this genetic diversity,” he said.

“Similarly to plant-based protein, you are talking about, not a $10 billion or $14 billion market growing to a $140 billion market; you’re talking about a multi-trillion dollar healthcare and food market. That is another wave of trend that, from a private markets perspective, I would be on the lookout for.”