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Benson Hill Receives NCGA Grant to Drive Corn Seed Competition with Big Ag

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Benson Hill Biosystems, the computational biology and ag genetics startup, has received grant funding from the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) to open up its traits discovery platform to other innovators.

The grant and partnership with NCGA aim to encourage and assist smaller corn breeding programs in developing new hybrid seed varieties to broaden the number of corn seed options on the market, according to Matt Crisp, CEO of Benson Hill.

“By partnering with NCGA, we are hoping to lower the barriers to entry for smaller innovators and breeders and hope they will create new lines of seeds to give growers more choice beyond the big agribusinesses, which control 85% of the corn market,” he told AgFunderNews.

Since closing its $7.3 million Series A in August 2015, Benson Hill has evolved and broadened its business model from a biotech company focused on improving crop productivity through photosynthesis.

Earlier this year it launched CropOS, which is a bioinformatics or bio-discovery platform using large amounts of genomic data and biological intelligence from public and private sources to pinpoint which plants will produce desired traits and improved performance. CropOS, which Benson Hill calls a ‘cloud biology’ platform, uses machine learning to grow smarter and more predictive with every experiment and data set.

Benson Hill has opened up CropOS for third parties to use and in exchange will share in any revenues they generate from discoveries made on the platform. This is the arrangement the company will take with innovators coming through the NCGA partnership. “We will share the risk and the reward with them,” said Crisp.

To support its new business model, the startup has hired a diverse set of staff including data scientists, engineers, physicists, mathematicians, plant physiologists, and molecular biologists. Its staff has doubled in size since the Series A to 50 people today, said Crisp.

NCGA represents more than 40k paying members and the interests of more than 300k growers that contribute through corn checkoff programs.

“Our members are telling us loud and clear that they need more choices in the corn marketplace,” said Larry Hoffmann, a leading grower and Chairman of NCGA’s Corn Productivity & Quality Action Team in a statement. “We believe that the CropOS platform offers a fresh approach to leverage big data and technology and foster a more competitive industry. Our partnership heralds an exciting new era of opportunity for our members to access better hybrids from a more diversified market.”

Benson Hill is currently raising its Series B round, which could close before the end of the year.

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