Benson Hill is establishing itself as “the photosynthesis company”. In less than two years they have built an all-star team, built their IP estate, obtained access to world-class facilities, developed an operational R&D pipeline and are executing on their plan to have plants in field trials in 2015… less than 12 months away. They are much farther along than most companies 1-2 years after a Series A, and have accomplished all of this with less than $1.5 million of funding and grants. Recently, we spoke with CEO Matthew Crisp for an update….
You have been awarded a material amount of federal grants from the National Science Foundation. What is the total that you have received?
The two existing NSF STTR Phase I grants total $450K. The new USDA SBIR Phase I on which we were recently notified of equals $100,000. These are highly competitive, peer-reviewed, federally-funded grants with granting rates in the 15-20% range. It is very rare to receive two in the same fiscal year from the same program in the same agency.
At iSelect Fund, we place the highest value on the pedigree and experience of the founders and the senior management team. You recently boasted that the Benson Hill team includes 5 of the top 15 photosynthesis people in the world. Can you elaborate?
Tom Brutnell, Todd Mockler, and I co-founded the company and there is a great deal of diversity in background between us. I am a former VC and have been working with public and private life sciences and biotech companies for my entire career, on boards and in executive roles. Tom and Todd are world-renowned leaders in their respective areas of photosynthesis (Tom) and computational and systems biology (Todd). They are two of the most well-funded members at the Danforth Center and bring completely different – one would argue synergistic – capabilities to the table. Nadine Carozzi joined out of retirement after leaving Bayer, which bought Athenix a couple years prior. Athenix is one of the most successful agbiotech stories in the last 10 years and was sold to Bayer in 2009 for $400M. Nadine co-founded the company and was its VP of Product Development and she is already helping us accelerate product development timelines. The bios of our board of advisors should speak for themselves and I would encourage you to read these if you haven’t. We sometimes need to pinch ourselves that these people are involved. We tap them regularly and they have been involved in shaping the strategy, direction, and the science of the company.
Though you originated out of the Research Triangle in North Carolina, you seemed to have found a new home at the Danforth Center. Tell us more about that relationship.
Our relationship with the Danforth Center cannot be understated. It is an amazing competitive advantage and jumpstart for an early-stage agbiotech company to have access to the world-class facilities of the largest, independent not-for-profit plant science research center in the world. I’ve worked with a lot of small and emerging companies in my career and this is an unparalleled match-up of resources with need, and we are able to do it all in a ‘capex-lite’ manner to minimize early-stage spending. On top of that, the folks at Danforth are terrific people to work with and we are fortunate to call them our partners.