Ag tech firm Benson Hill says it will build a new research facility and add scientific firepower, just weeks after the company landed a big-name independent director to help with growth and innovation.
With St. Louis-based venture capital firm Lagomaj Capital, Benson Hill is breaking ground on a new Crop Accelerator, a state-of-the-art controlled-environment research facility located near Benson Hill’s new headquarters in the 39 North Innovation District of St. Louis. The 47,000-square-foot crop accelerator will feature 20,000 square feet of dynamically adaptive Conviron growth houses and chambers, equipped with multichannel LEDs, additive CO2, and temperature, humidity and lighting controls.
“The crop accelerator facility will allow Benson Hill to bypass the delays of seasonal field testing by coupling this state-of-the-art facility with our CropOS technology platform, further leveraging the power of both plant science and data science with AI/ML predictive crop-performance algorithms,” said Jason Bull, Ph.D., chief technology officer of Benson Hill. “With the addition of world-class scientific talent that traverses the food science, data science and plant biology fields, we are creating food that is better from the beginning by design and intent.”
The facility will enable plant breeding to develop varieties up to four years faster than traditional research facilities, and is part of the company’s contribution to a more responsive food system that reconnects farmers and consumers in more sustainable ways. The crop accelerator will allow for rapid development of feed, food and ingredients, positioning farmers and food companies to grow and deliver products with the attributes that consumers are looking for, including improved taste and nutrition.
“Our philosophy is guided by the idea that capital is fuel enabling people to do great things and driving innovative solutions to major challenges,” said Felix Williams, founder of Lagomaj Capital. “Our investment in the crop accelerator is a physical representation of our belief in the impact that Benson Hill’s technology and model can have on the health and sustainability of food and agriculture. We are proud to be developing a facility of this scale and prestige in our hometown.”
Earlier this year, Impossible Foods veteran David Lee landed another gig in the food innovation and tech space. The former CFO and COO of the Redwood City, California-based plant-based food provider joined Benson Hill as an independent director. He also will chair the audit and risk committee.
Benson Hill maps findings of consumer sensory panels, food formulation testing and farmer fields all the way back to the plant genomic level, using advanced data analytics techniques. This enables the company to unlock the genetic diversity within crops and develop ingredients that are better from the beginning, creating new dimensions for food science and a suite of new opportunities for product innovation and differentiation using fewer and simpler ingredients.
Benson Hill is also adding three experts to the company’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) to enhance expertise in food science, data science and plant biology in new and integrated ways, according to the company. Mark Matlock, Gary Fogel and Julia Bailey-Serres will join the board’s interdisciplinary experts providing external scientific review and strategic guidance to research and product development efforts.
Matlock is a food science expert tasked with helping Benson Hill further develop insights between plant genetics and consumer benefits. Matlock was a leading scientist and driving force with the Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) for 40 years, where he authored or co-authored 10 U.S. patents. As SVP of research, his business contributions at Chicago-based ADM include early exploration of plant-based protein products and the acquisitions of Wild Flavors and Biopolis.
Fogel is a data science expert who will support the company as it continues to hone the capabilities of its food innovation engine, CropOS. Fogel is the CEO of San Diego-based software development company Natural Selection Inc. and also maintains an adjunct faculty role with the Computational Science Research Center at San Diego State University. He is an expert in machine learning, particularly in the application of computational intelligence to problems in biology, chemistry and medicine.
Bailey-Serres is a plant biology expert who will offer strategic guidance as Benson Hill seeks to better leverage the genomic diversity of plants to help solve challenges in the food system. Bailey-Serres is distinguished professor of genetics and director of the Center for Plant Cell Biology, at the University of California, Riverside. She currently holds the University of California MacArthur Foundation Chair. Bailey-Serres is known for her research on mechanisms of plant-adaptive responses to environmental stresses.