New funding will help FA Bio further develop novel biofungicides and biofertilisers produced by naturally occurring soil microbes.
The soil has a lot to tell us about how we could make agriculture more productive and sustainable, if we only knew how to listen. Tuning into these messages is the mission of FA Bio, an Imperial startup which has just closed a £5.3 million investment round to further develop and commercialise its soil microbe mapping technology.
At the centre of the company’s approach is its SporSenZ technology, a microbe sampling system that collects samples and data from agricultural fields. These are then analysed to identify promising microbes for development into agricultural bioproducts for the most important global food crops, such as wheat.
“Our innovative technology and game-changing bioproducts have the potential to boost crop productivity and provide a natural alternative to chemical fertilisers, protecting the world’s natural ecosystems,” said Dr Angela de Manzanos Guinot, co-founder and chief executive of FA Bio. “With this latest round of investment, we can accelerate our R&D work and development of bioproducts for the agriculture sector, and achieve our vision of revolutionising sustainable agriculture.”
The funding round was led by Clean Growth Fund, a British venture capital fund specialising in clean technologies, and Pymwymic from the Netherlands, a fund that focuses on investing in food and agriculture technologies. They were joined by Ship2B Ventures from Spain, existing shareholders in the company and new private investors.
“Given the challenges – natural and man-made – that agriculture is facing across the world, FA Bio has significant growth potential,” said Dr Jonathan Tudor, Investment Partner at Clean Growth Fund.
The company, originally called FungiAlert, was founded in 2015 by Imperial PhD students Angela de Manzanos Guinot and Kerry O’Donnelly Weaver to develop tools to provide an early warning to farmers about the presence of threatening pathogens in their soil. Early successes for the founders included winning Imperial’s flagship student entrepreneurship programme, the Venture Catalyst Challenge, and the CDT Den, a competition for early-stage entrepreneurs run by Centre for Doctoral Training in Imperial’s Institute of Chemical Biology. The team were also finalists in WE Innovate, an Imperial programme supporting startups led by women.
As work on the technology progressed, however, the team realised that its innovation had a bigger contribution to make to the development of sustainable farming practices. So they pivoted, renaming the company FA Bio and changing the focus from diagnostic tools to solutions capable of replacing agrochemical inputs.
The company now has two complementary activities. The first, FA BioLab, studies soils around the world in order to build microbial libraries associated with different crops, from arable crops and field vegetables to speciality crops and fruit.
The second part of the business, FA BioAg, uses DNA sequencing methods, bioinformatics, microbial bioassays and glasshouse studies to find microbial active ingredients in these libraries that have the potential to become new bioproducts, such as biofungicides and biofertilisers.
Given the challenges that agriculture is facing across the world, FA Bio has significant growth potential. Dr Jonathan Tudor Clean Growth Fund
During the 2023 spring and winter growing seasons, for example, FA Bio has been carrying out field trials of a series of innovative products for wheat. This work is funded by Innovate UK’s Farming Innovation Programme, and is carried out in partnership with the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) and Crop Health and Protection (CHAP).
“The potential for a biocontrol and biostimulant that can be applied as a seed treatment is key for combating devastating fungal diseases for the world’s largest crops and providing growers with effective alternatives to chemical products whilst also increasing yields,” said Dr O’Donnelly Weaver, FA Bio’s chief innovation officer. The results of these trials are currently being analysed.
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