Finistere Speaks at Bayer’s CoLaborator Launch

Spencer Maughan and Arama Kukutai attended the launch of Bayer startup incubator Crop Science CoLaborator in West Sacramento, CA which will offer 3,000 feet of space for startups with the potential to use Bayer’s testing fields and greenhouses. See coverage at Bayer’s Blog, Agfunder, and Sacramento Bee. Spencer Maughan spoke on a panel introducing Bayer’s third incubator facility where he highlighted the importance of strategic engagement with innovative companies, especially now that private innovation capital has exceeded the R&D budgets of the Big 3 AgTech multinationals. The panel also discussed lessons from Silicon Valley and the importance of open innovation.

Adrian Percy, Global R&D Head for Bayer Crop Science, and Arama Kukutai spoke at length about Bayer’s innovation strategy, including the importance of digital agriculture.

Adrian Percy: And that increased investment is needed, Arama. Farmers are faced with an escalating series of challenges: a growing population, declining per capita farmland, evolving pest pressures, shifting consumer preferences, increasing regulatory restrictions, and a changing climate – to name a few. These challenges demand more than incremental change if we are to overcome them and that has led to a radical reinvention of the way we approach ag research. Bayer has expanded its innovation ecosystem both internally and externally, because the application of knowledge obtained across all industries can only help us accelerate the development of breakthrough technologies.

Arama Kukutai: One of those breakthroughs, as you know, Adrian, involves digitalization. Many farmers lack digital tools, but this will change dramatically over the next decade, even in less developed countries. We’re exploring technologies with extremely high imaging resolution capabilities that can identify plant diseases over large swaths of land much more effectively—and less costly—than could an army of people scouting the fields. Imagine a drone that can inspect every leaf on every plant in a field on an hourly basis – this was unimaginable only a few years ago – and quite a departure for those farmers who could only get imaging data collected over a square mile. The potential improvement in the yield gap of some countries could be two- or three-fold – that’s not incremental.

When asked in Agfunder if Bayer would make equity investments in companies at the CoLaborator, Adrian Percy, Global R&D Head for Bayer Crop Science said:

We don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all approach. We have invested with a number of venture capital funds. We work very closely with Finistere Ventures, Agtech Accelerator, Radicle — and that’s one model because these guys are very, very well connected. They are really good at scouting and understanding and helping to accelerate young companies. We have done some JVs. Very recently we’ve done a joint venture in Joyn Bio, which is a joint venture with Ginkgo Bioworks, a startup based out of Boston. But we’re also prepared to make some direct investments as well.

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