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Finistere Expands in Ireland, Launches New €20M Ireland AgTech Fund

September 6, 2017

California-based agtech venture pioneer Finistere Ventures continues to be a driving force in the global development of agtech investment and innovation.

From its offices in Palo Alto and San Diego, California, Finistere has been expanding its global presence and investment reach into regions that show potential growth within the agtech sector. Furthering this mission, Finistere Ventures has partnered with Ireland’s €8.5 billion (US$10 billion) Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF) to establish an agtech cluster in Ireland, and to launch the new Ireland AgTech Fund (IAF).  

“We are expanding from the Silicon Valley to the Silicon Docks,” said Arama Kukutai, co-founder and partner at Finistere Ventures. “Ireland has become a hotbed for tech companies and is a prime location to serve as a beachhead into the European Union for leading AgTech innovators from around the globe.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the ISIF will invest a total €40 million (US$47.6 million) – €20 million (US$24 million) in the Ireland AgTech Fund and €20 million (US$24 million) in a global AgTech fund, and Finistere will open its first EU office in Dublin in order to “accelerate its investment and market penetration in Ireland and in the EU”. Leading this new office will be Finistere’s Kieran Furlong – an Ireland native who will be relocating to Dublin to serve in the role as partner for the IAF.

“We want Ireland to be the AgTech Island – a hub for European AgTech,” said Furlong. “All the ingredients are here – a long-standing, export-oriented Agri-Food industry; world-leading research at Irish universities and institutions such as Teagasc; and, of course, the thriving IT, biopharma and medtech sectors. AgTech is essentially the combination of all of these, so we see great potential for start-ups here.”

Previously based in California as Finistere’s entrepreneur-in-residence, Furlong will be bringing with him a vast well of international expertise that will serve to vet and identify promising agtech technologies being developed in Ireland’s research institutions.

“Finistere has a strong track record investing in technologies that have been well developed with public funding and can be commercialized in a global market. We plan to continue to foster the commercialization of Ag innovations throughout the European Union and globally through our new presence in Dublin and the IAF,” said Kukutai.

Next Stop, Ireland

Since its founding, Finistere has engaged in a strategic push to expand its presence in the agtech and agtech investment space of regions that offer high potential for innovation and growth.

In February 2015 the firm announced its first close of Finistere II – its $150 million agtech investment fund established in collaboration with Bayer CropScience and AVAC Ltd. that focuses on backing early stage agtech businesses developing technologies in food production, sustainability, and nutrition across North America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel – all countries noted by Finistere as having strong agtech R&D pipelines.

Upon the first closing of Finistere II AgTech Fund, Kukutai told GAI News, “This is a $3 trillion-dollar industry that we have globally producing food for the planet and absolutely has always been the recipient of trickle-down technology from other fields. But we see real significant unmet demand for smart capital in the space. There are fundamental resource and quality issues that are out there around need for agricultural products, but we also see that the sector is underserved by innovation capital.”

Additionally, in April 2016, the firm partnered with institutional farmland owner and manager International Farming Corporation (IFC) to launch agtech equity growth fund Willow Hill Ventures.

Willow Hill Ventures is a growth equity-focused vehicle that will capitalize on the diverse tools brought by Finistere and IFC. By nature of IFC’s involvement, the fund is connected with a widespread base of several million acres of farmland owned or influenced by IFC across 20 U.S. states. This acreage will help serve as an on-farm innovation ecosystem to be used by the fund’s portfolio companies. Through the fund’s integrated on-farm testing and development capabilities – combined with access to the expertise offered by IFC’s agronomy, technical, and operational teams – companies that Willow Hill invests in will build market traction, with their technologies reaching scale with already-established validation, certification, and recommendation which in turn will increase farmer adoption.

That same month, the firm also began fundraising in Australia – a region the firm has targeted for its advancements in technologies that address seed development and water conservation, but has been seen to have a gap in the capital and expertise needed to bring these technologies to commercial scale and viability.

“We see a huge and growing opportunity for growth equity financing of Agtech companies and are actively seeking to identify Australian technologies and businesses that need both capital and the strategic, technical and operating expertise that we bring as partners and investors,” said Dr. Spencer Maughan, a former research scientist and Australian citizen who is a partner with Finistere, at the time.

More recently, in April of this year, Finistere expanded its presence into Israel with the addition of two in-country venture partners – Gil Meron and Eyal Rosenthal – to explore agtech investments and to strengthen its partnerships in what the firm considers a key region.

Continuing this global push, Finistere will now have a base through its presence in Dublin and the IAF which will provide a vibrant pool of talent and a robust pipeline of scientific innovation being conducted at a range of research institutions.

“We are proud to be partnering Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in the IAF,” said Kukutai. “Ireland is one of a select band of countries that are centres of excellence in Ag Technology. Finistere aims to invest in start-up companies that are solving for the big problems facing agriculture. We see Ireland as a great hub for many of our investment companies into the EU, a young and dynamic pool of talent, as well as a rich source of untapped Food & Ag R&D that can prove valuable to the world’s largest agriculture markets.”

Finistere Provides

The agreement also will see the ISIF invest €20 million (US$24 million) in Finistere’s global AgTech Fund – a move that will give Ireland exposure to a portfolio of some of the most promising, cutting-edge, and fastest growing agtech startups and entrepreneurs in the global food and ag supply chains,  in addition to Finistere’s expansive and diverse network of co-investors and industry partners.

“We view agriculture and food technology as a significant a high-potential growth area for the Irish economy and have sought out a best-in-class AgTech fund,” said Cathal Fitzgerald, head of food & agricultural investments with the ISIF. “Finistere has a global reputation in what is still a very specialised [sic] area of venture investing and its decision to locate its first EU office in Dublin is a significant vote of confidence in Ireland’s Agri-food credentials.

Currently, Finistere’s impressive portfolio includes:

CropX – a startup addressing the global challenges of drought and food shortages through a combination of soil sensor and cloud-based analytic technologies that are affordable and user-friendly;

Radicle – a $15 million accelerator fund that made its first investment in ag waste mitigation platform Full Harvest this April;  

San Francisco-based Plenty – an indoor vertical farming startup that raised a $200 million Series B – the largest agtech funding round in history, this July;

ZeaKal – the San Diego-based developer of PhotoSeed technology, which is able to raise the efficiency of soybeans’ conversion of sunlight to biomass for improved yields and vigor;

Israeli agtech AI platform Taranis – provider of the world’s first scalable predictive analytics solution platform that provides precise information in relation to fields, crop diseases, pests, weather conditions, and daily operations through its state-of-the-art forecasting and “now-casting” technologies;

and ShopWell – a U.S.-based personalized app for retail food shoppers that helps health-conscious consumers make more informed purchasing decisions.

-Lynda Kiernan

 
Lynda Kiernan is Editor with GAI Media and daily contributor to GAI News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration, please contact Ms. Kiernan at lkiernan@globalaginvesting.com.

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