Almost exactly one year after launching, Canada’s $100 million Telus Pollinator Fund for Good is expanding the number of “responsible agriculture” ventures in its portfolio with investments in Montreal-based beekeeping tech startup Nectar and Los Angeles alt-dairy company Goodmylk.
This latest round of investments, which also includes Toronto-based healthtech startup Gotcare, brings Telus Pollinator Fund’s total number of portfolio companies to 10. Nectar and Goodmylk join Torontonian urban farming operation Fresh City Farms as the portfolio’s ag-focused startups.
Canadian telecom giant Telus launched the Pollinator Fund in 2020 to drive more investment into early-stage startups building solutions for agriculture, healthcare, and inclusive communities.
The fund looks for startups poised to have social and environmental impact while still being able to generate a financial return. Where ag is concerned, the fund is a separate business unit from Telus Agriculture, which also launched in 2020; but the two entities share the common goal of backing innovators working to make the agrifood ecosystem more resilient and sustainable.
Ka-Hay Law, agriculture investment director at the Telus Pollinator Fund, says there are three “grounding verticals” the fund goes by when assessing potential agtech startups for the portfolio: implementing sustainability practices, ensuring access and availability to healthy foods, and reducing waste.
“Right off the top we’re looking for opportunities that can generate a financial return,” she says. “Equally important is how deeply a company’s impact thesis is built into the success of their financial performance. We want to partner with founders that are really committed to [keeping] the impact piece intact throughout any investment and throughout the success of the company.”
For example, the fund’s investment in Nectar is all about the opportunity in biodiversity management in agriculture, Law tells AFN. The startup’s precision beekeeping tech traces where honeybee colonies have been throughout the season, digitalizing their journey and helping beekeepers to better manage hive mortality rates, which are of serious concern right now. Nectar CEO Marc André-Roberg tells AFN his company’s mission is to “change the agricultural environment to help the bees using the data we collect.”
Law adds: “Beekeeping in and of itself as a as a sector is still tracking the health of bees on paper or whiteboard. So is there an opportunity for us as a fund to back an early-stage company [to] help monetize this space and lead it into more sustainable and resilient biodiversity management.”
Goodmylk, meanwhile, aims to bring a plant-based milk to consumers that contains fewer ingredients and undergoes less processing than some other brands. The shelf-stable product comes in powdered form and the almonds used to make it are “sustainably sourced,” according to Law.
The Pollinator Fund had already invested nearly $20 million in its existing portfolio comprising EliteGamingLive, Pocket Naloxone, Raven Indigenous Capital Partners, Windmill, Tidal Vision, Rhiza Capital, and the aforementioned Fresh City Farms. All the companies are at seed to Series A stage, with more than half based in Canada, 40% led by women, and 50% led by individuals of an indigenous or other racial minority background.
Being connected to Telus provides additional access to resources, skill sets, and other value adds for these companies.
“We are in a very valuable and unique position in that we’re not just an investment fund – we can leverage the commercial and the technical knowhow of Telus [as] a technology company that has a distinct business unit [directed] to agriculture,” Law says.
“We believe that will really differentiate ourselves as an investor in this space, and equally [will be] valuable for startups that are launching their businesses.”