Monsanto Growth Ventures’ First Investment Portfolio Shows Its Strategic Focus Areas

Monsanto Growth Ventures (MGV) announced its first investment portfolio on January 6, 2016. MGV, the venture capital arm of Monsanto, has committed to significant relationships with several companies over the last three years. Steve Padgette, VP of research and development (R&D) strategy, said that the group utilizes three avenues to form relationships with companies: R&D deals, equity investments, and acquisitions. MGV expressed that it seeks companies working in areas related to RNA platforms, seed treatments, microbial and biological treatments, genotyping technologies, and novel crop traits. The group also invested heavily in companies developing precision agriculture solutions, including analytics, data storage and cloud technologies, robotics, and image analysis. MGV has formed relationships with 11 companies in its first portfolio of investments, several of which Lux Research has spoken with.

Precision Agriculture Companies

  • AgSolver, located in Ames, Iowa, uses grower-input data, machine data, yield maps, and soil data to provide farmers with software management tools. Its tools include a manure management plan, analysis of zones of production and profitability within fields, analysis of zones best suited for cellulosic biomass production, and a conservation planning app.
  • VitalFields (client registration required), located in Tallinn, Estonia, provides weather forecasting, on-farm record keeping, and disease prediction software tools. Lux Research spoke with Vital Fields in January 2014, and since then the company raised a $1.2 million Series A round in May 2015, led by Estonia Development Fund, SmartCap, and “an unnamed large Silicon Valley-based VC.”
  • HydroBio (client registration required), located in Denver, Colorado, provides a satellite imagery-based software platform for irrigation decision support. Lux Research spoke with HydroBio in October 2015. The company raised $75,000 in seed funding from Los Alamos National Laboratory in June 2012, and was awarded $450,000 in U.S. Department of Agriculture Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants in 2013.

Crop Protection and Biostimulant Companies

  • Nimbus Therapeutics, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is a biotechnology company that partnered with Monsanto in 2013 to develop broad-spectrum fungicides through a joint venture called Nimbus-Ceres. MGV committed to an additional investment in Nimbus-Ceres as part of this initial portfolio. This strategy of partnering, then funding, helps ensure the company’s early work has sufficient support to come to fruition.
  • Plant Response Biotech (client registration required), located in Madrid, Spain, develops biostimulants and non-transgenic approaches to improving abiotic stress tolerance and disease resistance in crops. Lux Research spoke with Plant Response Biotech in December 2015. MGV led a $6.6 million Series A round in December, 2015, joined by Middleland Capital, Caixa Capital Risc, and Novozymes.

In addition to these highlighted companies, MGV also added Arvegenix, Blue River Technologies, Preceres, AgBiome, RaNa Therapeutics, and PivotBio to its portfolio. Lux Research estimates that the company invested $30 million into these 11 companies over the past three years. Other corporate venture capital groups should view Monsanto’s recent developments as strategic moves to continue developing its breadth of coverage of agricultural technologies. Other corporate venture capital groups should review their own investments, and consider crafting a similarly strategic approach to funding decisions, aimed at enhancing their own portfolios.