(Singapore) Technology is redefining key industries, and none more so than the production of food. Agtech food start-ups raised more than $24 billion in the first half of 2021, a period when many other sectors were only just starting to recover from the pandemic.
The Yield Lab Driving Innovation in Aquaculture
The Yield Lab is a global federation of AgTech Funds with a unique strategy to identify innovative technologies. The Funds invest in Seed and Series-A state startups. The Fund network also specializes in organizing nonprofit challenges designed to stimulate the commercialization of innovation in sectors of agriculture needing attention.
Through external sponsorship, Cash prizes are offered that can help these pre-commercial entrepreneurs develop their businesses. These thematic challenges have been backed by sponsors who are dedicated to advancing agriculture efficiency and growth. Previous The Yield Lab Challenges have included focus on identifying innovation in areas such as: manure, soy and sustainability and sponsored by global power players such as AWS and Cargill.
The Yield Lab Asia Pacific Fund is driving just such a Challenge, The Global Aquaculture Challenge. “Aquaculture was the elephant in the room, and worthy of a challenge.” Said Claire Pribula, Managing Director and Co-Founder of The Yield Lab Asia Pacific.
Asia is home to almost 90% of the world’s animal aquaculture by volume with much of it in the hands of smallholder farmers. Asia’s modern aquaculture industry emerged in the 1970s and 1980s but continues to grapple with legacy problems including extensive use of antibiotics, high mortality rates at the farm level, and accusations that bad management practices have destroyed mangroves and polluted watersheds.
With that in mind, TYLAP launched the Global Aquaculture Challenge in 2020, bringing together industry sponsors such the U.S. Soybean Export Council and IBM. Public sector sponsors include UAE-based aquaculture consulting firm Aqua Bridge, business development agency Enterprise Singapore and Chile’s investment promotion agency Corfo through its Salmon Sustentable initiative. After being selected from 180 applications from around the world, a cohort of eight companies from as many countries have worked with mentors to develop their plans and will pitch in a global finale held on Oct. 7. Each of the companies propose exciting new ways to disrupt aquaculture.
“Aquaculture is intrinsically the most efficient of the many sources of protein for human nutrition,” Pribula said. “And there is so much efficiency to be gained in production and supply chains, it exemplifies the whole reason why we conduct these challenges.”
Aquaculture in the region stands to significantly benefit from YLAP’s broader agtech industry expertise, Pribula said. That pool of knowledge includes animal health experts from other branches of agriculture and the use of cross functional technologies such as AI and IoT, she said.
All of that means The Yield Lab Asia Pacific will be including aquaculture companies in its growing portfolio, Pribula said.
The Yield Lab Big Picture
The first of The Yield Lab Venture Capital Funds was founded in St. Louis, Missouri in 2014 with its first investment cohort in 2015. And now with Funds in North America, Europe, Latin America and Asia Pacific is the most active early-stage through series-A Agtech network of Funds in the world, with 60 Agtech investments across all of its four regional funds. The Yield Lab companies have an almost 100% survival rate according to The Yield Lab founder Thad Simons. He attributes that to the fund’s vast global network of 20-to-30-year agriculture and food experts who work with these companies in a bespoke manner for at least a year, and many continue on long after and continue to remain in these companies as they advance in their maturity. This continuity gives startups more time to bring extremely complex innovations to fruition, Simons said.
The latest in the global federation of The Yield Lab Funds, is The Yield Lad Asia Pacific (YLAP), which was founded in 2019 in Singapore by Managing Director Claire Pribula and Larry Taylor. Asia Pacific is core to global food production, with the majority of smallholder farmers domiciled in South and Southeast Asia producing 80% of the World’s produce, and 90% of aquatic foods, in the world’s most populous region. Having the Fund domiciled in Singapore with its highly secure and regulated Fund regime of the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and with Singapore’s focus on making the island nation 30% self-sufficient in food production by 2030, Singapore is the ideal location for The Yield Lab Asia Pacific Fund.
Providing safe, affordable, and sustainable food remains a significant challenge for Asian governments despite several success stories. There are still 263 million people in the region living on less than $1.90 a day and 1.1 billion on less than $3.20 a day, according to the Asian Development Bank.
“It’s a unique region because of its 300 of the globally 500 million, smallholder farmers residing in Asia, and the incredible challenges each country faces across all of Agriculture due to diminishing arable land, changing climate, and degenerated soil quality” Pribula said. “You can’t possibly have this kind of intimacy with the unique challenges of this vast region by trying to run a fund from New York. You need to be here.”
Pribula has plenty of experience in technology and Asia having worked for over 30 years in the front edge of innovation creating new businesses for with large multinationals such as IBM and SAP, as well as being a founding partner of her own technology startup in China where Monsanto ended up becoming one of the largest customers, and Agri-food a primary focus. Taylor has been in the agriculture sector for all of his career having worked for Union Carbide and Monsanto across Asian markets after graduating from Cornell University’s renowned agriculture program. Born in Japan, Taylor has a local view of the region thanks to being an Agricultural volunteer in Malaysia. Taylor shares his lifelong knowledge as an adjunct professor of Asia Business Studies at the University of Missouri in St. Louis.
The Yield Lab Asia Pacific actively investing
Recent investments by The Yield Lab Asia Pacific include leading the Series A round for DiMuto, which addresses the complex issues surrounding managing global supply chains, and the massive food waste caused due to inefficiencies, with its proprietary Trade Technology Solutions Platform, providing farm to fork visibility. And Umami Meats which has developed technology for producing cell-based seafood through elimination of Fetal Bovine Serum, with an affordable circular solution based on Crop waste, circular in nature, to create edible aquatic organism cell lines.
The Yield Lab Asia Pacific portfolio includes a Singapore-based indoor farming company Archisen utilizing IoT and robotics to provide leafy green produce to Singapore consumers, a pair of India based companies. Fasal provides Data driven smart farming, using its proprietary sensor, IoT, algorithms and machine learning, capturing farm level data to predict ideal growth conditions and resource requirements (irrigation, sprays, fertigation and preventive measures) and provides prescriptive action to farmers, integrated with accurate soil and micro climate predictions to ensure optimal crop yield. And CreditAI, an online credit platform for smallholder farmers. Both Fasal and CreditAI were chosen as the top two companies out of 33 firms “with the most potential to impact food security in Asia” as part of the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit 2020’s Start-up Day. Tunyat is a farm-machinery booking service in Myanmar. All of these companies have received follow on funding and are advancing into their Series A rounds.
20 Oct 2021.
Matt Craze and Oriana Aguillon, Spheric Research.