As Enerkem hauls in $223M, we ask “Who’s getting the gold?”

February 6, 2018 |

The gold bricks are flying in to Montreal at a pace even Auric Goldfinger would approve of, and the reason is Enerkem’s monster $223 million investment round. It’s Enerkem’s largest to date, and just about anyone’s largest to date, anf that makes then the “Tech with the Midas touch,” to paraphrase Shirley Bassey.

Existing Enerkem investors include Rho Ventures, Braemar Energy Ventures, Waste Management of Canada, Investissement Québec, Fonds de solidarité FTQ, Cycle Capital, Fondaction, The Westly Group, and the National Bank of Canada.

BlackRock and its $6 trillion under management couldn’t be better known but Sinobioway is less so. This industrial group, affiliated with Peking University, primarily invests in bio-energy, bio-environmental protection, bio-medicine, bio-agriculture, bio-service, bio-manufacturing, and bio-intelligence.

As we reported in January, there’s much more to the Sinobioway investment. In the mix are future licenses, equipment manufacturing and sales, as well as for the creation of a major joint venture that will lead the construction of over 100 Enerkem state-of-the-art facilities in China by 2035. The announcement was made in the presence of the Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, during his China trade mission.

So, what’s on the docket? Unsurprisingly, given Sinobioway’s focus — it’s more Enerkem technology-laden plants.

As CEO Vincent Chornet observed, “This new and significant financing will help accelerate our growth and further expand project development and implementation. Now that we have launched the world’s first commercial-scale bioethanol operation in Edmonton, we can focus our efforts on building a strong circular economy for communities around the world by deploying new facilities.

BTW, our latest Multi-Slide Guide to Enerkem is here.

Milk without the cow

Meanwhile racking up the dollars in Emeryville, with news that Ripple Foods closed a $65 million Series C round led by Euclidean Capital, with participation from Goldman Sachs, Fall Line Capital, and existing investors including GV, Prelude Ventures, S2G Ventures, and Khosla Ventures. This round follows successful Series A and Series B funding rounds and brings Ripple Foods’ total funding to date to $110 million.

Ripple? It’s milk without the cow — specifically, pea protein — the company’s intellectual property focuses on processes and ingredients that allow the company to more closely replicate animal-derived foods with plant-based ingredients. Powered by Ripptein, Ripple Foods makes dairy-free foods into a good source of protein, lower in sugar, and the word on taste is a thumbs up.

It’s been a fast ride. Ripple Foods was first launched in April 2016 with its first product, Ripple Milk, and has since rapidly expanded its product availability and offerings. Last year, Ripple introduced a shelf-stable 8 oz Kid’s Pack, providing a nut and allergen-free option for kids at home and at school. In July 2017, Ripple launched its Half & Half, providing customers a healthy plant-based half & half free of both cholesterol and saturated fats, and expanded availability of its milk internationally – launching in Canadian retailers from coast-to-coast. Most recently, Ripple Foods introduced a non-dairy Greek Yogurt that boasts a full 12 grams of protein per serving. Ripple Foods products are readily available throughout the U.S. and Canada in over 10,000 locations such as Kroger, Whole Foods, Target, and other regional retailers and grocers.

Some sustainability cred, to boot. In less than two years after launch, Ripple consumers are helping to offset over 2.5 million pounds of carbon and save over 6 million gallons of water each month versus dairy milk.

Meat without the Cow

But let’s not suppose that it’s all about Milk Without the Cow. Because there’s Meat without the Cow.

As we reported in December, Beyond Meat raised $55 million in a new round led by Cleveland Avenue, LLC, the venture capital firm founded by Don Thompson, former CEO of McDonald’s Corporation.  “We see Beyond Meat as a strategic and compelling consumer-focused investment.  Customer response to Beyond Meat’s great-tasting products has driven its growth, and we’re excited about our investment as the brand continues to innovate for the future,” said Thompson.

Tyson Foods increased their stake in Beyond Meat with this round.  “Global demand for all protein remains high and we’re passionate about meeting that demand sustainably,” said Justin Whitmore, executive vice president corporate strategy and chief sustainability officer of Tyson Foods.

The Beyond Burger is sold in more than 5,000 stores and these funds will more than triple the size of Beyond Meat’s production footprint, further fund the company’s R&D commitment to perfectly build meat from plants, and expand sales and distribution.

And it’s not just Beyond Meat. Consider Memphis Meats.

As we reported last week, Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Tyson Foods, also invested in Memphis Meats, a leader in cultured meat produced directly from animal cells. Currently recruiting to expand its team of chefs, scientists, creative people and business people, Memphis Meats expects to use the funds to accelerate product development.

Tyson Foods joins other notable Memphis Meats investors including industry leaders such as DFJ, Atomico, Cargill, Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

Zipongo’s tasty treasure-trove

Elsewhere in nutrition, Zipongo closed a $18 million Series B1 round led by Seventure Partners, a European leader in venture capital, and by Zaffre Investments, the investment fund of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. Zipongo plans to use the additional funding to expand its nutrition platform beyond wellness to use food as first-line therapy in treating chronic disease.

Since launching in 2014, Zipongo has given millions of employees, health plan members and health system patients access to the Health, Cooking and Restaurant modules of Zipongo Engage to help assess and improve nutrition. The company is now expanding its technology platform to allow health plans and providers to use food to treat chronic disease, through a new solution called FoodScripts. FoodScripts adds specific modules to the Zipongo platform that address conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity and more through prescriptive, personalized, evidence-based nutrition programs. Zipongo plans to roll out an early version of FoodScripts to pilot customers in the early spring.

Pure-play renewable chemicals, too: BioAmber racks up $10M

It’s not all about nutrition. This week, BioAmber raised $10 million when it priced an underwritten public offering of an aggregate of 40 million Series A units (or equivalent Series B Units) at a price to the public of US$0.25 per Series A unit and US$0.24 per Series B unit.

Elsewhere in Emeryville

But where would biotech be without pharma, from whom all technology originally floweth and to whom most money also goeth.

Emeryville is no exception, and evidence aplenty this week with news that Eureka Therapeutics completed a $60 million Series D financing round. As the name suggests, it’s therapeutic in focus: proceeds will be used to advance Eureka’s lead candidate, ET190L1-ARTEMIS T cells in relapsed and refractory CD19+ Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, as well as to accelerate its pipeline of innovative immunotherapies against other hematological and solid tumors. Acorn Pacific Ventures led the round, with participation from GP Capital and all existing major investors.

Digital biology rules, even in China, even for Google

Yep, it’s gone way, way past Silicon Valley, and the roster of investors is broadening too for digital biology and genetics. One to watch is XtalPi Inc., a computation-driven pharmaceutical technology company, which closed a $15M Series B funding round led by Sequoia China, with participation from Google and existing investor Tencent.

Yes, it’s therapeutic and outside of our usual coverage stream, but consider that the company is combining artificial intelligence, quantum physics, and high-performance cloud computing, to quickly and accurately predict many important characteristics of small-molecule drugs and solid forms, thereby providing time-saving insights into the safety, stability, and efficacy of drug candidates.

Algorithms rule, and that has implications for all of digital biology, including the likes of Zymergen, Genomatica, Amyris, Gingko BioWorks, and Arzeda.

Proceeds from this funding round will be used to develop new computational models built on big data generated from XtalPi’s high-precision computing platform and to expand its business into adjacent areas along the pharmaceutical value chain.

And there’s precision ag, too

Keep an eye on PrecisionHawk, too – as we reported this week, the company raised a $75 million round of funding from a group of venture and strategic investors including Syngenta. This investment brings PrecisionHawk’s total funding to more than $100 million since being founded in 2010, making it the world’s most well-capitalized commercial drone company.

“Syngenta has been a PrecisionHawk customer since 2015 and has experienced first-hand the impact of the technology platform; both augmenting and replacing a variety of manual processes for more efficient and scalable operations,” said Katrin Burt, Managing Director of Syngenta’s venture capital group. “This investment reflects our commitment to advancing technologies that could have a real impact within agriculture and our excitement about the potential for PrecisionHawk to lead the commercial drone space across multiple industries.”

With this investment, PrecisionHawk can build upon its lead in the commercial drone space and apply capital to expand its team, focus on product innovation and make strategic acquisitions.

The Bottom Line

What are the trends? As they say in the world of cars, look under the hood. What’s interesting is not only the applications of these technologies — whether they are consumer targets like nutrition and therapeutics, or supply-chain targets like precision ag services and renewable chemical intermediates. Focus on two factors.

1. VC is going big again. After quite a dry spell, venturing is up again and even corporate venturing. This chart tells the tale on venturing across the globe.

And this one looks at corporate venturing, specifically.

2. The gold’s in computation. Biology has gone completely digital — from genetics through to metabolic pathway design.

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