Syngenta Ventures to back start-up WeedOUT for first species-specific biological herbicide
WeedOUT’s full Series A round will close in March 2020. Other investors in the round include CreditEase Israel Innovation Fund and Zora Ventures.
Israel-based biological crop protection technology start-up WeedOUT recently announced the first close of a Series A round led by Syngenta Ventures to tackle weeds that are resistant to chemical herbicides such as glyphosate. If effective, this product could be revolutionary for the bio-crop protection space; it’s understood that efficacy in biological alternatives to herbicides specifically has been challenging to achieve.
WeedOUT is developing what it calls the industry’s first species-specific biological herbicide, by harvesting pollen from specific weed species, irradiating it to become sterile, and then artificially pollinating weeds in the field using pollen dispersing equipment. It’s specifically targeting resistant weeds that have become resistant to chemical herbicides like glyphosate. Resistant weeds leave farmers with little recourse to address them, posing serious problems because they can spread rapidly, taking over cropland or pastureland and reducing productivity. This has led some farmers to stack multiple herbicides together in a bid to target each possible species that could be plaguing their fields.
WeedOUT’s approach is very different to ag-chemicals incumbent Bayer, which a couple of weeks ago announced plans to combat glyphosate resistance with yet more chemicals. The company is undergoing significant biologicals research and invested in NewLeaf Symbiotics but told AFN it’s struggled with efficacy.
WeedOUT’s full Series A round will close in March 2020. Other investors in the round include CreditEase Israel Innovation Fund and Zora Ventures. Existing investor Radicle Growth backed the company around the same time that it won the inaugural Radicle Challenge Israel. It’s also received grants from the Israel Innovation Authority and the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.
“It’s a good team and it’s different,” Michael Lee, one of the managing directors for Syngenta Ventures, told AFN. “The world is replete with pretty coloured maps and non-differentiated products that even investors struggle to differentiate let alone farmers who have precious little time to study it like us. As an investor, I look for something different with strong a strong IP position so that when the future plays in that direction you are well-positioned to make a handsome return.”
Launched in 2009, Syngenta Ventures is the venture capital arm of Syngenta, a global crop protection, seed, and digital tool provider. With 30 portfolio companies to date, the multi-disciplinary team invests in companies on its own and also co-invests alongside a range of investors, including agtech venture capitalists, philanthropies and foundations.
WeedOUT ticked the differentiation box for Lee through its use of sterilized pollen to target specific species of weeds. He has seen similar approaches used to manage invasive pests by genetically engineering sterile male insects.
This is Syngenta’s second biologics play. In 2018 it led a $2.9 million seed round for Danish pheromone-based pest control startup BioPhero.