Agricultural ventures are not coming to market fast enough (I’ve written why, here). We have a laborious task ahead of us to get to the point where we can feed a population that will hit 10 billion globally in our lifetime. All these people need to be fed – and they need to be fed economically. It is not sufficient to simply grow enough to feed everyone – we must grow enough so that everyone can afford to eat.
No doubt, it is a complex situation covering moral, technical, political and economical issues. But the simple truth is that all these people need to be fed. As a global society, we have failed to achieve this necessity. In light of that, companies like BioConsortia are exactly the sort of entrepreneurial ventures we need to embrace in this challenge.
BioConsortia is a development-stage biotech company that isolates beneficial microbes that will promote crop health and efficiency. By using these beneficial microbes and advancing agricultural produce and yield, they may be able to increase the output of the world’s crops without resorting to genetic modification, or use of chemical fertilizers.
BioConsortia just received its second round of funding to advance its technology. This round saw Otter Capital and Khosla Ventures (funded several of the startups I’ve written about) equally participate in a $15 million round.
The opportunity that lies ahead for BioConsortia is huge. The global agricultural community’s desire to increase production efficiently, without sacrificing the quality of the harvest or the nutrient content, is growing bigger by the day (as the global population is reaching unsustainable levels). Many genetic modification strategies, that aimed to get produce from seed to table at a faster rate, have resorted to accelerating the physical attributes of the produce, where size, color and texture are enhanced, but the nutrient content is substandard.
By accelerating the microbial selection process, and adding that to the soil, the microbes that form part of the growth cycle then naturally enhance the crop. The science behind BioConsortia’s technology is obviously a lot more technical, but that is the gist.
The potential of BioConsortia’s technology is nothing short of revolutionary. What we are talking about is increasing the level of crop growth without genetic modification; that could increase production enough to lower the cost per calorie, thereby allowing calories to reach the poorer parts of humanity. BioConsortia has the potential to display capitalism and innovation at its finest.
Facing off Against Hunger
At present, 21,000 children die each day from malnutrition – all of this malnutrition is caused by poverty. These children inherit the state of constant and persistent poverty and malnutrition from their parents, and are unable to ward off diseases and common ailments that a proper diet could prevent. With a population of 7 billion, the malnutrition numbers are staggering in this world. Almost 1 billion people worldwide are starving. They are stuck in a poverty trap that makes economics the only barrier between them and nutrition. What happens when we hit 10 billion? The stats suggest we are already at unsustainable population levels.
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BioConsortia has a solution to help aid in the eradication of this tragic problem. The company appears to be able to address the technology issue and, to a certain extent, the economic issue in getting the seed-to-table-cost down.
BioConsortia was part of an incubation process that began in New Zealand. Khosla partner, Andrew Chung, was in charge of the incubation process together with Dr. Peter Wigely.
There was no exorbitant upfront investment requirement that made the venture capital community hesitate. To date, the investments in BioConsortia have been relatively small but have gone a long way in developing its technology. In other words, VCs have received major bang for their buck thus far. The risk/reward, from an investment perspective, made BioConsortia very attractive.
A Noble VC Firm
Khosla Ventures has been a leader in funding technology that makes a difference for mankind. It is a fantastic venture capital firm that all entrepreneurs should study. And they’ve been one of my favorite early stage investors for this reason. There is a human element behind Khosla. When I say this, what I mean is that it’s not always about funding the next must-have consumer gadget – it’s more about life and humanity for this VC firm. I love that.
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The Environmental Angle
The major strength in this investment is that the microbe technology allows for a more environmental approach to agriculture. Much of the fundamentals behind agriculture practices today are destructive (I won’t go into the details, but click here to read my report on this topic if you are interested). Microbe treatments enrich the soil better than anything I’ve studied to date (it doesn’t pollute the air like the popular crop burning method).
Using BioConsortia’s technology, the land where crops are planted is not depleted, but rather enriched by the microbes. It helps the ground give life to the next batch of crops. This is a long-term solution that deserves a lot of attention. Given the depleting supply of arable land on this planet, this is an investment in our future that is worth the risk.
We need to aggressively look for long-term solutions to support a burgeoning population, without having to rob Peter to pay Paul – which is what current solutions are doing from one generation to the next. I’m thrilled to see entrepreneurs at startup BioConsortia tackling one of the most serious challenges the human race faces…
It will be interesting to see how this daring startup plans to penetrate the market. No doubt, it will need the support, or at least blessing, of federal governments who control or subsidize much of the global arable land remaining.