Zymergen, a startup engineering microbes for use across a range of industries including agriculture, has raised $130 million in Series B funding. This is one of agtech’s largest fundraising deals to-date.
It’s also $30 million more than competing “organism company” Ginkgo Bioworks raised earlier this year.
Zymergen and Ginkgo Bioworks operate in a scalable niche of industrial manufacturing where they’re trying to replace petroleum and other environmentally-damaging ingredients with a biological alternative to make everyday products like paint, plastic containers, and soap. The industrial process Zymergen is particularly trying to enhance is fermentation.
Microbial inputs are becoming increasingly prevalent and interesting in the agriculture sector too as a replacement to traditional chemicals as more research is done on the plant microbiome. There is a growing ecosystem of agtech startups focused on producing pesticides and fertilizers with microbial alternatives including Indigo, Adaptive Symbiotic Technologies, and AgBiome.
Zymergen raised funding from Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank, which led the round, Iconiq Capital, Prelude Ventures, and Tao Capital Partners. Existing investors AME Cloud Ventures, DFJ, Innovation Endeavors, Data Collective, Obvious Ventures, True Ventures, and Two Sigma Ventures, also joined the round.
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Zymergen farms and genetically engineers microbes using data science, robotics, nd machine learning.
The company is using robotics for a range of tasks including automating tests in the lab with extra precision, which also generates data to be fed into the company’s analytics to improve operations. The data science and machine learning help the company to identify preferential microbe traits that would suit different applications for different customers.
Zymergen would not disclose its client base, but said they were Fortune 500 companies from the chemical, agricultural, pharmaceutical, and food sectors. It also added that it was making revenues from year one.
Zymergen fits into Obvious Ventures’ Sustainable Systems portfolio, Vishal Vasishth, partner at the VC, told AgFunderNews.
“We’re excited about Zymergen because they’re taking robotics and machine learning and optimizing the production of microbes for different processes, which is 10 times better than conventional methods of making these chemicals,” he said. “We also believe in biological-based manufacturing. Right now they are mostly focused on finding existing microbes in these industries and improving them to become more effective and sustainable, but they will be building entirely new products too.”
Another player in the space is Novozymes, the Danish company, which has reached $1 billion in revenues. In agriculture, Novozymes works across animal nutrition, animal health, aquaculture, crop production, and BioAg in Australia, according to its website.
Ginkgo Bioworks is particularly focused on flavors, food and fragrance industry, while Zymergen appears to have a broader remit.
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