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Biotech in focus as NewLeaf raises $17m

Otter, Open Prairie, RockPort and Pangaea are among the VC firms backing the company focused on plant bacteria beneficial for growth.

 NewLeaf Symbiotics, a biotechnology company focused on plant bacteria beneficial for growth, has raised $17 million in a Series B funding round led by Otter Capital. It was joined by fellow US venture firms and returning investors RockPort Capital, Pangaea Ventures and Open Prairie Ventures.

That brings NewLeaf’s total capital raised to $24 million, having raised $7 million in Series A funding last year.

Open Prairie was attracted to the company’s specific focus and in-depth knowledge on pink pigmented facultative methylotrophs, or PPFMs, a specific group of naturally occurring bacteria, according to Jason Wrone, vice president at the company.

“What appeals to us about NewLeaf is the company’s talented management team and growing intellectual property portfolio around a specific class of bacteria,” said Wrone. “NewLeaf is developing its Prescriptive Biologics™ platform to accelerate characterization of strains and identify the strongest candidates for commercialization.  Other companies are looking more broadly across a variety of biologicals whereas NewLeaf is laser-focused on understanding PPFMs and their potential for generating healthier plants and producing higher yields.”

Investment into biotechnology is picking up pace as companies look to fill a gap in innovation left by the larger agribusinesses as crops and pests start to build resistance to certain chemicals, according to Wrone.

“As traditional insecticides, fertilizers and other chemicals commonly used in agriculture are beginning to see reduced efficacy, we are seeing a shift towards a better understanding of the symbiotic relationships that exist between beneficial bacteria and plants in nature,” said Wrone. “The utilization of technology to optimize these relationships will help generate the significant advancements in agriculture that will be required to feed a growing planet in a more sustainable way.”

NewLeaf is the third investment from Otter Capital this year that also appears to have a keen focus on biotechnology for agriculture; it invested in BioConsortia, a platform to develop microbial communities and Green & Grow, a company dedicated to naturally derived agricultural products.

RockPort Capital specialises in renewable energy, energy efficiency, mobile platforms, data and sustainability where NewLeaf fits; it is its first agri-related investment this year, according to online VC database Crunchbase.

Pangaea has $32 million of assets under management and has a similar remit investing into energy generation, energy storage, energy efficiency, sustainability, and environmentally-focused firms. Pangaea invested into Vestaron, an insecticide producer in August.

Open Prairie increased its investment into NewLeaf through Open Prairie Ventures II, a $30 million fund that closed in 2010.

RockPort, Pangaea and Otter could not be reached for comment.