Bill Gates-led VC and Singapore SWF bet on alternative fertilizers

Pivot Bio chief executive Karsten Temme says the nitrogen-producing microbe business, which just closed a $70m Series B, could help upend a market worth about $200bn.

Investor coalition Breakthrough Energy Ventures has led a $70 million funding round for Pivot Bio, a maker of nitrogen-producing microbial products that’s set to launch commercial operations next year.

The transaction marks one of the first investments by BEV, a $1 billion fund led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg and other business grandees. Another investor in the Series B is Temasek, the Singaporean sovereign fund. Both BEV and Temasek will be granted seats on the start-up’s board.

Founded in 2010, Pivot Bio bills itself as the first company to make a nitrogen-producing microbial product available for US corn farmers. Karsten Temme, Pivot Bio’s chief executive, told Agri Investor that the proceeds from the series would be used to “enable a successful product launch” and bring the technology to new crops, including rice and wheat.

Pivot Bio said Proven, as its product is called, reawakens the ability of microbes present in plants’ roots to produce nitrogen after years of chemical fertilizers shutting them down. This results in “more productive and predictable crop yields without nutrient degradation, volatilization, leaching or runoff into waterways,” the company explained.

The product is already approved for use in states that represent about half of the US corn producing market, with additional state approvals in the cards for this year and next, according to Pivot Bio. Temme told Agri Investor that the start-up was also looking to expand internationally, notably in Latin America.

“We’re just looking at places where commodity crops are most heavily grown. The same type of varieties that grow in the US are grown in some parts of Latin America.”

He stressed that the addressable market was huge, with a global fertilizer market sized up at about $200 billion. “Corn, wheat and rice consume about half the world’s fertilizers. These are big numbers. Just in the US alone, the corn crop consumes almost 6 percent of the world’s total.”

In an era of growing uncertainties caused by tariffs, climate change and commodity price pressures, Temme said farmers were looking for ways to guarantee their ability to turn a profit. “We’re helping them navigate a more volatile marketplace.”

Series A investors included co-leads DCVC and Monsanto Growth Ventures, which were already present at the seed stage, as well as Prelude Ventures and Spruce Capital Partners. The company received early backing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.