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FoodShot Announces Winners of Soil 3.0 Challenge inc Trace Genomics & Carbon Sequestration Measurement

June 6, 2019

FoodShot Global, the multistakeholder investment platform, has announced the winners of its first challenge, Innovating Soil 3.0 catalyzing $3 million in equity investment for Californian soil microbiome testing startup Trace Genomics from leading agrifood tech investor S2G Ventures.

The platform also awarded $535,000 in grant funding to three research initiatives under its Groundbreaker Prize.

FoodShot Global was established last year as a non-profit consortium of venture funds, banks, corporations, universities, and foundations to invest in startups and projects using the latest technology to address some of the food system’s major challenges, starting with soil health. Partners include Rabobank, Generation Investment Management, agtech VC Acre Venture Partners, S2G Ventures, the Rockefeller Foundation, UC Davis Innovation Institute for Food and Health (IIFH), and the entrepreneurial segment of the food giant MARS (MARS Edge).

First Scalable Soil Microbiome Test

Trace Genomics has built the first scalable soil microbiome test to help farmers predict soil disease, soil health, and crop quality, using high-throughput DNA sequencing and machine learning.

The $3 million investment in Trace Genomics is an extension to its Series A — in which AgFunder invested — and will also open up FoodShot Global’s network of stakeholders for additional support, according to Victor Friedberg, founder of FoodShot Global (FSG).

“In addition to the capital, FSG is unique in being able to build post-investment engagements with our partners such as Rabobank, MARS, and the Innovation Institute for Food and Health at UC Davis, among others. We are currently developing R&D and deployment projects with these partners that forward Trace’s innovation and business strategy. FSG will stay engaged throughout and leverage the collaborative benefits of our partners to help Trace Genomics grow to become the leading company in global soil health,” he told AgFunderNews.

Groundbreaker Prize funding was awarded to three individuals: Dr. Keith Paustian, was awarded $250,000 to accelerate the global adaptation of his COMET tool systems, Dr. Gerlinde De Deyn was also awarded a $250,000 GroundBreaker Prize to advance her work connecting plant biodiversity in space and time, and a $35,000 GroundBreaker “Seed” Prize was awarded to Dr. Dorn Cox to support his ambitious vision of using a collaborative Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management (OpenTEAM) to democratize access to environmental data and provide universal access to site-specific global agricultural knowledge.

Quantifying Carbon Sequestration

COMET-Farm is a voluntary carbon reporting tool for farmers, quantifying how much carbon they sequester from the atmosphere by implementing conservation practices on their land.

“In recent years the use of the COMET tools has expanded to include not only support for USDA’s conservation programs but also as a tool for ag-product industries to use in quantifying the carbon footprint of their supply chains, to provide metrics for state and local programs to promote soil C sequestration and healthy soils, such as in California’s Healthy Soil Program, and to support development of “ecosystem-service” markets, such as CO2 drawdown market systems  being developed by new companies such as Nori,” Dr. Paustian told AgFunderNews.

Paustian was nominated for the Groundbreaker Prize and will use the funding to expand his work outside of the US. To-date, he has been funded by the USDA NRCS, the State of California, the Rathmann Family Foundation and the Jenna and Michael King Foundation.

Predicting Plant-Soil Interactions

“In my research, I focus on how plant species and species combinations alter the functioning of soil during plant growth, as well as after their growth through legacy effects in the soil. These effects have an impact not only on subsequent plant growth but also on greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient leaching, and build-up of harmful and beneficial soil organisms. The key challenge is to promote beneficial interactions so that we rebuild soil health, produce nutritious crops, support biodiversity and keep nutrients and carbon in the system rather than losing them to the environment via emissions and leaching. In my work, I combine different disciplines through several established collaborations, which is very inspiring and fun,” Dr. Deyn wrote to AgFunderNews.

With the funding, she will fund a PhD student to work with her team on the coupling between regenerative soil management and the production of a highly nutritious fermented sorghum beverage. “In that project, we will bridge soil ecology with food microbiology and nutrition in sub-Saharan Africa,” she added.

Democratizing Access to Environmental Data

Dr. Dorn’s OpenTEAM  (Open Technology Ecosystem for Agricultural Management) is creating a collaborative ecosystem of technology, people, and interoperable tools, to provide site-specific, actionable knowledge on soil health. The project leverages observational technology, remote sensing, and modeling technology, data visualization, and mobile and web-based decision support tools to create trust and interoperability across the ecosystem.
“I will use the funding to support the ambitious vision of using OpenTEAM for greater democratized access to agricultural and environmental knowledge,” Dorn told AgFunderNews.

Over 400 Entrants from Over 40 Countries
FoodShot Global received over 235 applications for debt/equity funding and over 175 nominations for the GroundBreaker Prize, from over 40 countries.  The companies clustered primarily into sub-sectors such as microbiome, predictive analytics, genetics and genomics, new sensing technologies, and robotics.

The criteria for selection were as follows:

  • MISSION-ALIGNED: Address FoodShot’s key pillars of a healthy, sustainable, and equitable food system and demonstrate meaningful progress against the defined annual Challenge.

  • GLOBAL IMPACT: Ensure global relevance, with the potential to materially improve systems for the maximum number of people around the world.

  • SCALABLE: Contain an articulated pathway from the present stage — whether research, lab validation, R&D pilot, initial commercial launch or beyond — to true growth stage where financial viability and the global impact can be fully realized.

  • ACCELERATED: Exhibit measurable scale and impact over a time horizon of 5 – 12 years, and facilitate future innovation and systemic change.

“While FoodShot partners will be awarding equity investment to only one company this year, Trace Genomics, we will be tracking the developments of several of these companies for future FSG GroundBreaker Equity Awards in the coming years,” Friedberg told AgFunderNews.

Challenge Number 2: The Protein Gap
Looking ahead to the next challenge, which will open for applications in September, Friedberg says it’s likely to focus on the problem around supplying enough protein for the world’s ever-growing demand.

“With demand for protein growing dramatically due to population growth and the continuation of western food culture and its adoption in the developing world, we are facing extreme challenges to planetary limits in terms of land and water resources,” he said. “We are just convening our partners, both current and prospective, to develop the systems map for protein and articulate the key frameworks, sectors of interest, and innovation pipelines. But we are also looking at a broader approach to both macro and micronutrients and will make a decision about scope in advance of the launch.”

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