The Ireland AgTech Fund (IAF) is an alliance between Ireland’s sovereign development fund (ISIF) and California-based Finistere Ventures, a global AgTech pioneer that has worked with companies such as DuPont and Bayer.
The IAF fund will be managed by Finistere and run from its new Irish office, which it set up to accelerate its investment and market penetration in Ireland and in the EU.
The investors are targeting start-up and early stage technology that can generate significant economic impact in the Irish agribusiness and food sectors, industries estimated to be worth €24bn to the Irish economy and that employ around 150,000 people.
Finistere said it will source investment opportunities in Ireland, attract entrepreneurs to AgTech and identify promising technologies emerging from a wide range of Irish research institutions.
Choosing to locate its first European operations in Dublin is a significant vote of confidence in Ireland’s agri-food credentials, said Finistere Ventures founding partner, Arama Kukutai.
“We have been operating in the AgTech space for a little over a decade. Recently we started taking interest in other parts of the world. We set up an office in Tel Aviv in Israel in April. Europe was the logical next step. This is an opportunity to put Ireland on the map. It has a relatively untapped source of food and agriculture R&D that could be commercialized.”
As well as the research undertaken at Irish universities and institutions such as Teagasc and supported by companies like Glanbia and the Kerry Group, he said Ireland has a strong ag economy and a longstanding, export-oriented agri-food industry; it also has thriving IT, biopharma and medtech sectors, and, critically, is a gateway into the EU.
“Ireland can become the beachhead, a hub for many of our investment companies into the EU. There is a lot of interest in AgTech in the Netherlands, in the low countries, and in France, Switzerland and Germany.”
Finistere has been researching and developing this partnership for the past year. “We have a strong pipeline of Irish investment opportunities already lined up,” Kukutai told us.
Enzymes, gut health, grass-based systems
AgTech is a broad term. “We are not farm investors, the emphasis in on the technology.”
Finistere Ventures, he said, is focused on disruptive innovation that spans plant biology – breeding and biotechology – crop protection, livestock health and genetics and smart farming and agronomy.
In addition to the IAF investment, the ISIF, which has an €8.5bn portfolio, is investing an additional €20m in Finistere’s global AgTech fund, with the aim of giving Ireland exposure to cutting edge start-ups around the world as well as Finistere’s network of co-investors and industry partners.
“The IAF has strong potential to deliver a commercial return on our investment, stimulate the growth of the Irish AgTech sector at large, and support the commercialization of the state’s significant investment in this sector,” said Cathal Fitzgerald, head of food and agricultural Investments, ISIF.
In the European space, he said the group is looking to support innovative plant-based enzyme technology aimed at improving cereal digestion in poultry, swine and dairy cows. “There are a lot of start-up companies working on this.”
Diagnostic equipment to monitor animal health and the animal’s response to feed, particularly in ruminants, is also of interest. “There is ongoing innovation in this field.”
Research focused on gaining greater insights into the microbiome to optimize animal gut health is on the investors’ radar as well - a field that has already attracted a lot of investment, said Kukutai.
“The APC Microbiome Institute, located in Cork in Ireland, has a long history in understanding how the microbiome influences human health; now it is involved in crossover work in animal health,” he said.
The investors are also interested in research into ways to deliver better grass quality and yields to the benefit of pasture based feeding systems.
Entrepreneurs seeking backing for their AgTech idea can contact the investors though the deal portal on the Finistere Ventures website
Accelerator trend taking hold
Ireland has been used as a base for several AgTech accelerator programs in recent years.
Asia fish feed delivery innovator, eFishery, was one of 10 agribusiness focused entrepreneurs chosen to take part in a mentorship program run by Alltech and Irish start-up hub, Dogpatch Labs, in Dublin in early 2017.
The other start-up companies involved hailed from Australia, Canada, China, Israel, the UK, the US, and, of course, from Ireland. Between them, they had already raised more than $30m in funding.
This summer, The Yield Lab, one of the first accelerator programs to focus on the agriculture technology market, launched an Ireland-focused program and investment fund. It will operate out of Galway, in the West of Ireland.
Following the same model as its US counterpart, Yield Lab Galway is reportedly investing €100k into eight to 12 start-ups over the next two years, providing them with one-on-one mentorship, free workspace, and networking opportunities over a year-long program.