A UK-based animal agriculture technology company has spun out of the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and raised £10 million ($12.4 million) in funding to commercialize its first products.
This is the largest funding deal for an early stage UK agritech startup innovating on-farm products, according to AgFunder data.
Roslin Technologies was formed by JB Equity, an agriculture-focused private equity and advisory firm after discovering the opportunity to commercialize research at the university. Milltrust International, an institutional investment manager with a tech fund dedicated to funding university research, invested in the new company to become a shareholder alongside Edinburgh University and JB Equity.
Roslin Technologies has a band of core capabilities including genome sequencing, gene editing, transgenics, phenotyping, and bioinformatics that it will offer as a service to clients but also use to create sellable products.
The first suite of products the startup wants to commercialize revolves around a protein researchers have engineered in chicken eggs. This protein, which is produced in the eggs of genetically modified (transgenic) chickens, can help to regenerate livers. It has therapeutic applications in the pork industry — to prevent production losses in early weaned pigs by boosting their immune system — and also for animals and humans that have overused paracetamol, negatively impacting their liver function. The current plan is to sell these proteins as injectables, although there is potential for them to be mixed into feed if they can be stabilized at high temperatures, according to Glen Illing, CEO of Roslin Technologies.
Roslin Technologies has discovered other proteins through the same platform — via chicken eggs — that play a role in healing wounds, he added
The model JB Equity pursued in forming Roslin Technologies is similar to those adopted by venture development organizations TechAccel and Flagship Pioneering out of the US. Roslin Tech, as a portfolio company, is a little different in that it’s positioning itself as a group of technology platforms, utilizing different technologies to provide products and services. It could acquire or invest in other formed companies and will constantly bring in new tech and research where relevant.
“We looked at the traditional incubator system, where you spin off lots of little companies, but felt in agriculture that didn’t really work because some of the margins involved are a bit lower and the time frames can be longer,” said Illing. “So we came up with the concept of creating an agtech company, rather than an incubator company, where the university’s principal investigators and scientists will come up with ideas and IP, and we can commercialize them through the agtech company.”
Illing is also a partner of JB Equity, which now has seven partners globally, all focused on agriculture. He became involved in Roslin Tech after being tasked with doing a feasibility study on working with principal investigators at universities on commercializing agriculture research. He has had an extensive agriculture career including working in the Genus Group’s pork and aquaculture businesses for 35 years — including a management buyout and subsequent sale of the aquaculture business. JB Equity plays more of a brokerage role in deals by leveraging institutional funding for companies, but also offering in-kind services as an investment to gain a stake in companies like Roslin.