Benson Hill to merge with Star Peak Corp. II in $2B SPAC deal, to emerge as public company: $625M in proceeds

May 9, 2021 |

In New York, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that Benson Hill, the Midwest-based agtech company focused on Cloud Biology, will merge with special purpose acquisition company Star Peak Corp. II in a $2B transaction and emerge as a public company.  

Benson Hill will receive as much as $625 million in cash from the transaction. The company is the third agtech firm to go public via a SPAC merger this year: AppHarvest also took this route in February and AeroFarms in March (more on AeroFarms here.)

Last November, Benson Hill announced the close of a whopping $150 million Series D funding round led by Wheatsheaf Group and GV (formerly Google Ventures). The company’s food innovation engine CropOS taps nature’s genetic diversity to develop and commercialize healthier and more sustainable food and ingredient options that benefit farmers, food companies, and ultimately, consumers. This funding will accelerate the food tech company’s efforts to deploy its platform technology, expand partner development across the supply chain, and scale product commercialization efforts. 

The funding round attracted diverse investors recognizing the company’s strategic business model and potential to impact the health and well-being of people and the planet through advances in the food system. New and returning investors included Argonautic Ventures, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), Emart, GS Group, Louis Dreyfus Company, iSelect Fund, Fall Line Capital, Mercury Fund, Prelude Ventures, Prolog Ventures, S2G Ventures, and additional strategic and family office investors.

The Tech Behind CropOS

Benson Hill leverages Cloud Biology, a discipline combining the power of data science, machine learning and AI techniques with plant biology and genomics. CropOS is the platform that makes this discipline actionable, significantly accelerating the precision and speed of product development. According to their press release, Benson Hill’s technology platform and collaborations empower the creation of healthier and more sustainable feed, food and ingredient options that consumers are seeking, while also delivering strong crop performance that farmers demand.

CropOS combines vast amounts of genomic data and expert biological knowledge from public and private sources to pinpoint which plants will produce desired traits and improved performance prior to ever being planted in the field. CropOS provides decision support in breeding programs, allowing researchers to bypass multiple generations of experimentation.

The CropOS cognitive engine uses machine learning to grow smarter and more predictive with every experiment and data set. With each additional breeder that takes advantage of the analytical power and machine learning of CropOS, progress in corn breeding has the potential to accelerate significantly, making the industry more responsive to the needs of growers.

The Benson Hill backstory

Benson Hill is not a new name for The Digest readers, as we can go back to 2015 when we reported their $7.3 million Series A financing, their 2016 launch of CropOS, the 2016 announcement of a partnership with the National Corn Growers Association to unleash corn innovation. But more recently this year, The Digest reported in March that they have plans to release Ultra-High Protein soybean varieties in the 2021 crop year, and in June we reported that they contracted 30,000 acres to advance its cutting-edge soybean varieties through partnerships in the consumer food, animal feed and aquaculture markets. And let’s not forget they made The Digest’s Hot 50 in 2020 as a first-time debutant.

Unlocking soy

In March 2020, we reported that the company eleased Ultra-High Protein soybean varieties in the 2021 crop year. These varieties are the first commercially available soybeans that can effectively replace soy protein concentrate via typical soybean crushing. This innovation enabled food companies to eliminate costly energy and water-intensive processing steps across the consumer food, animal feed and aquaculture markets. Benson Hill launched its proprietary soybean varieties on over 30,000 acres in 2020 and is aiming to double acres in 2021.  Its portfolio of cutting-edge soybeans includes ultra-high protein varieties that address the growing market demand for plant-based protein alternati

Benson Hill’s seed-to-shelf innovation pipeline leverages plant genomics to drive ingredient innovation through its CropOS™ platform. CropOS accelerates the path to market by employing proprietary phenotyping, predictive breeding and environmental modeling algorithms, allowing Benson Hill plant breeders to optimize not only the protein content of its soy varieties but also the optimal environments for these varieties to be planted.

The Benson Hill: unleashing corn

In 2016 we reported thati Benson Hill formed a strategic partnership with the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA).

Benson Hill’s CropOS platform empowers organizations of any size to innovate and provide growers choice, whether that be for disease, maturity or specific environmental requirements. With a handful of companies owning roughly 85 percent of the corn market, there is limited incentive to address more geographic-specific needs; Benson Hill’s CropOS opens up new research opportunities.

The Democratization of R&D

We wrote in 2016: “The nature of collaboration across the advanced bioeconomy is shifting dramatically – and we are seeing the democratization of R&D. It is because of the Cloud, and the costs of gene sequencing, and the development of powerful algorithms whereby machines learn faster and become more accurately predictive. As Dan Watkins of DFJ’s Mercury Fund put it, “There’s a total sea change in biology with CRISPR-CAS gene editing coming on less expensively, and we’ve got next-gen sequencing and the costs of the cloud coming down fast. It’s not that different from the IT world where now everyone has a supercomputer in their pocket.”

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