Irish agritech start-up CropBiome receives €1.3M investment

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Irish agritech startup CropBiome, a joint University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) spin-out, has received €1.3 million ($1.3 million) funding.

HBAN (Halo Business Angel Network), the all-island organization responsible for the promotion of business angel investment, and a joint initiative of Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and Invest Northern Ireland, participated in the oversubscribed funding round. 

HBAN Singapore and HBAN Bloom Equity syndicate invested €405,000 ($410,000) in the business, with other investments coming from DeepIE Ventures Management Company Ltd and Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-Ups Funding.  

CropBiome sources, selects, ferments, characterizes and tests microbes derived from wild plant species that are closely related to mass-produced wheat and other cereal crops. The microbes – which are natural and unharmful to plant and animal life – are used to create seed dressings, which coat the raw seeds of the mass-produced crops, and produce healthier crops as a result.

Improving crop performance

A combination of field and greenhouse crop trials have shown that the seed dressings can improve crop performance in drought conditions and when fertilizer use is reduced. 

This results in reduced chemical inputs, enhanced crop resilience and improved soil health – all providing targeted economic benefits to farmers. Currently, CropBiome has a biobank of more than 600 microbes, which the company is testing to determine their impact on stress resistance, nutrient use efficiency and overall crop yields.

The funding will help CropBiome, headquartered at NovaUCD in Dublin, to grow from its current team of eight to 12 by year-end 2023. The roles will cover laboratory and field scientists, as well as business development personnel.

This will help CropBiome to partner, and carry out trials, with major seed distributors in Europe’s largest grain markets – the U.K., Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Germany, France and Spain. The company said it expects the work will enable it to bring its products to market by mid-2025, with revenues expected to reach €5 million ($5.1 million) by the end of 2025.

In addition to the seed funding, together with UCD and other partners, in 2021, CropBiome successfully submitted a €1.5 million ($1.5 million) Disruptive Technologies Innovation Fund (DTIF) grant application. The Fund is run by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment with administrative support from Enterprise Ireland. 

CropBiome secured €500,000 ($506,400) of this against proposed expenditure. In 2020, it was a regional winner of InterTradeIreland’s Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition.

Sean Daly, CEO of CropBiome, said: “Pressure is mounting on food producers across the world to move to a more sustainable food model. A key aim of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy is to reduce chemical use in agriculture – including fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides. It also targets the reduction of nutrient losses by at least 50%, while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility. 

“The European Commission has indicated that a reduction in fertilizer use of at least 20% by 2030 will be needed to achieve these targets across the EU. CropBiome’s product development and market entry strategy is aligned to help meet these targets. 

Daly said initially the company will tackle the European grain market – which represents a significant proportion of the world’s total grain production – with the company’s sustainable biological solutions, which are the result of five years of scientific research by company founders Fiona Doohan at UCD and Trevor Hodkinson and Brian Murphy at TCD. 

Daly said CropBiome aims to enter the market at a similar price point as existing chemical seed coating products and believes this will provide a major competitive advantage. 

“By 2025, we expect that our success in Europe will enable us to expand into North and South America, Australasia and other cereal-producing regions and countries,” Daly said..

“We are delighted to take on this seed round funding, which will help us to accelerate the commercial development of our products. The funding from HBAN angels, as well as their guidance, has been strategically very important to us as we seek to grow our team and look ahead to Series A funding in 2024. Our funders have valuable in-depth industry knowledge and truly believe in our product and the real-world, environmental impact that it will have.”

Solving global problems

Daniel Kearney, chair, HBAN Singapore, said: “CropBiome is an extremely exciting biotechnology company that is solving a global problem, locally in Ireland. As a result, they have not only secured funding from investors in Ireland, but also from our Singapore HBAN syndicate and two HBAN angels in Belgium.

“The CropBiome team impressed our investors with their deep knowledge, ambition and unique solution that helps grain growers worldwide produce more sustainable and climate-resilient crops that secure our future food supply. With regions working to drive down the reliance on chemicals for crop production, CropBiome is primed to succeed in an important growth market.”

Niamh Sterling, consultant at HBAN, said: “Investment in start-ups that make a positive, real-world impact is rising. Future-looking businesses like CropBiome are solving pressing issues that will make the world a better place and that is very attractive from an angel investor’s perspective. It is rewarding in terms of returns, and also an overall sense of making a difference in the world.”

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