Enko Chem raises $45 mn to develop AI backed crop protection solutions
The funds will be used to expand the Boston-based startup’s technology platform
Enko Chem, which harnesses machine learning to help farmers sustainably protect their crops from pests and disease, has raised $45 million. Founder and CEO Jacqueline Heard said the funds will be used to expand the Boston-based startup’s technology platform and ready its pipeline of crop protection solutions for field testing and regulatory trials. Enko also plans to continue pursuing studies and collaborations with industry partners as part of its broader mission.
Enko’s recent round was led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with participation from existing investors Anterra Capital and Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund. It included new investors Finistere Ventures, Novalis LifeSciences, Germin8 Ventures, and TO Ventures Food. The series B follows a $7.5 million venture round in July 2018 and brings the company’s total raised to $66 million.
Enko, which was founded in 2017 and incubated by Anterra Capital, a venture fund focused on startups addressing food supply chain challenges, aims to discover safe, economical solutions that promote sustainable staple crop production. The company produces large discovery data sets that are amenable to machine learning and AI models. In tandem with predictive analytics tools, these data sets ostensibly decrease design cycles and bolster success in finding safe, novel, and effective compounds more quickly and cost-effectively than rivals.
Enko uses information about protein targets and pests to inform its product development strategy, sourcing DNA-encoded libraries containing an array of 120 billion compounds. It claims an experimental approach allows it to get an early read on both safety and effectiveness and deliver machine learning- and AI-driven improvements in predictability. Enko says it’s able to cast a broad net and survey hundreds of billions of small molecules while narrowing the scope of the solutions it pursues.
Among other products, Enko is developing insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides for staple crop types in the U.S. and globally. Heard notes that the yields of most fruit and vegetable crops increase 50% to 90% with fungicides and that over 90% of U.S. cropland is now treated with herbicides, an uptick driven by the popularization of no-till farming. No-till farming decreases harmful soil erosion but often isn’t practical without protection against invasive species.