Benson Hill Biosystems closes Series B funding with $25M


Pictured left to right: Tom Brutnell, Chief Scientific Officer; Matthew Crisp, President & CEO; Todd Mockler, Chief Technology Officer. Photo courtesy of Benson Hill Biosystems.

St. Louis-based Benson Hill Biosystems announced today the close of a Series B funding round at $25 million.

Last year, the company had set an early goal of raising $15 million but Matthew Crisp, CEO and co-founder of Benson Hill Biosystems, said he quickly realized that the excitement surrounding their CropOS platform would allow them to surpass that target.

“It demonstrates the momentum around the interest level in this system and what it’s really positioned to do in agriculture,” said Crisp.

How Benson Hill Biosystems and CropOS works

Benson Hill Biosystems is putting the power of agricultural technology directly into the hands of smaller breeders and growers with their CropOS platform and cloud biology, an intersection of cloud computing, big data analytics, and plant biology.

“We’re taking the scale of what’s been created at very large companies and empowering innovation to much smaller companies,” said Crisp.

Crisp describes the CropOS platform and applications as a continually advancing amalgamation of data, algorithms and machine learning that allows users to better predict which crop seeds will produce a desired trait.

The B series funding will go to further developing CropOS and supporting further field trials and development activities to advance those products to the market.

“We need a new model of innovation that can accelerate crop improvement to meet our global food and energy needs, and we look forward to working with our stakeholders to ensure that Benson Hill delivers on our purpose, creating real change that benefits our industry and society,” said Crisp.

Making big data accessible to small companies

Up until now, there have been a variety of systems collecting data, but there was always a problem with the information being accessible to the traditional user. Agricultural scientists don’t necessarily have the computational and technical skills to find solutions in the data even when they have access to it.

Crisp says his company is demystifying the data by building a system that allows researchers and small companies to use the data without hiring a technical team.

“We’re empowering them to innovate in their respective crop area,” said Crisp. “It’s enabling people to do something that they really wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

Creating innovation through disruption

In May, Benson Hill Biosystems will start their third year of field trials on seeds with engineered photosynthesis traits they created using data from CropOS. Crisp says that the question right now for seed breeders is how can they use genomics, computation and machine learning to know which lines to breed in order to create a crop more effective in a specific area.

“That’s a really exciting area of where the business has grown,” said Crisp. ”Breeding is gaining a lot of traction and attention in the market.”

Photo courtesy of Benson Hill Biosystems.

Cost margins have gotten thin for breeders and growers and there’s more pressure on them from an input/cost standpoint. Benson Hill Biosystems is hoping to incite innovation and create competition in the market.

“We’re not out to get anybody, we’re out to empower people,” said Crisp. “It’s in many ways analogous to other industries where there’s been disruption that’s occurred by doing things not better than somebody, but by doing things differently, and that’s exactly what we’re focused on.”

What’s next for Benson Hill Biosystems

Benson Hill Biosystems has been around 2012 and just raised an impressive sum of money, but because of the slower pace of agTech development, they’re still looking to turn the corner from a startup to an early stage company.

“We are still a very young company that is running field trials and we’re seeing great results, but none of those outcomes are on the market,” said Crisp.

They’re currently looking forward to onboarding partners to CropOS, incorporating their data and info into the system, and building the community of innovators that Benson Hill Biosystem thinks will position the industry to change for the better.

Throughout all of the company’s agTech development, Crisp maintains the belief that real crop outcomes come from people on the ground, and the convergent spaces that come out out of the meeting of data and biology in the Midwest.

“We need to not lose sight on the biology of the matter and what goes into the ground.”

Christine McGuigan is the Associate Editor of Silicon Prairie News.