HBAN-backed CropBiome receives €1.3M investment

By hban.org
Tuesday, 26th July 2022

HBAN (Halo Business Angel Network), our all-island organisation responsible for the promotion of business angel investment, and a joint initiative of Enterprise Ireland, InterTradeIreland and Invest Northern Ireland, today announces that HBAN angels have participated in an oversubscribed €1.3M funding round in agri-tech start-up, CropBiome. The deal was led by  DeepIE Ventures Management Company Ltd and Our angels from HBAN Singapore and HBAN Bloom Equity syndicate invested €405K in the business,  Enterprise Ireland High Potential Start-Ups Funding.  

CropBiome, a joint University College Dublin (UCD) and Trinity College Dublin (TCD) spin-out, sources, selects, ferments, characterises and tests microbes (organisms) 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.

A combination of field and greenhouse crop trials have shown that the seed dressings can improve crops’ performance in drought conditions and when fertiliser 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. They will be essential in helping CropBiome to partner, and carry out trials, with major seed distributors in Europe’s largest grain markets – the UK, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, Germany, France and Spain. The company expects that this work will enable it to bring its products to market by mid-2025, with revenues expected to reach €5M by the end of that year.

In addition to the seed funding, together with UCD and other partners, in 2021, CropBiome successfully submitted a €1.5M 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 of this against proposed expenditure. In 2020, it was a regional winner of InterTradeIreland’s Seedcorn Investor Readiness Competition.

Sean Daly, CEO, 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 fertilisers, 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 fertiliser 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. Initially, we will aggressively tackle the European grain market – which represents a significant proportion of the world’s total grain production – with our unique sustainable biological solutions, which are the result of five years of extensive scientific research by our founders Prof. Fiona Doohan at UCD and Prof. Trevor Hodkinson and Dr Brian Murphy at TCD. We aim to enter the market at a similar price point as existing chemical seed coating products with our biological sustainable alternative and believe that this will give us 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.

“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.”

Dr. 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, 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.”