Save the bees, protect the fish, zap the weeds – Real life action heroes

Entrepreneurs can be real life actions heroes. You just have to look at the first four companies that have been selected for The Yield Lab, Europe’s leading AgTech Accelerator which recently opened its doors for business, based in Ireland.

They want to save the bees, protect the fish and zap the weeds – as well as make money of course.

Each company receives €100,000 of equity investment, coupled with a six-month intensive programme of mentoring, networking and profile building with leading international customers, suppliers, management teams and funders from across the world.

The Yield Lab’s Irish-based European operations are based in Galway and are headed up by Paul Finnerty, former CEO of ABP, one of Europe’s largest agfood businesses, with €3bn sales and 10,000 employees. Paul highlights the importance of AgTech to deal with the problems facing the world today. “The world is not producing food sustainably. In the past 50 years, we have had massive diversity loss, deforestation, water pollution, and soil degradation. Food is the No.1 factor impacting on GHG emissions, water, and land use. AgTech is where new technologies and innovations are addressing the need to produce more from less resources. The Yield Lab is working to become a leading player globally in helping early stage AgTech companies to address this strategically critical sector in a commercially successful way.”

This year, Yield Lab Europe had 165 applications, of which four companies were selected, three Irish and one UK.

Apis-Protect, was set up this year by Dr Fiona Edwards Murphy, with a PhD in honey bee health, together with Andrew Wood (Chairman) and Dr Padraig Whelan (CSO) following on from research at University College Cork. Apis-Protect has developed a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution to capture data on bees, and provide beekeepers with an early warning system and actionable insights into the health of their beehives. The business combines IoT, unique hardware, big data and machine learning to provide real time monitoring and data on the health of the hive. Beekeeping is facing a global crisis, with a variety of honey bee diseases and pests devastating beehives over the last 20 years. Many beekeepers report up to 50% of their honey bees dying each year. As problems unfold within the hive, it is often very difficult for beekeepers to see a problem until it is too late. This not only impacts on honey production, but also on pollination of crops. Apis-Protect’s solution requires no technical knowledge on the part of the beekeeper, is cost effective and unobtrusive. The solution plans to provide useful pollination data as well as local weather forecasts.

Hexafly is based in Kells Co. Meath, and was set up in 2015 by NUIG graduates Alvan Hunt and John Lynam. Hexafly is an award-winning bio-tech company which has developed an innovative new way of upcycling waste products from brewing into high value aquaculture feeds, natural fertiliser and bioplastics. The Company has found innovative ways to breed insects on an industrial scale, utilising its own proprietary bio-conversion technology to achieve maximum extraction of high value protein and oil products.  These products are used for aquafeed, where the industry is under pressure to find alternative sustainable sources of high quality raw materials. The company also produces natural fertilisers and pesticides from the process, and is also looking at ways to extract chitin, a high value bioplastic, from the process.

MicroSynbiotix is a microalgae-based platform technology company headquartered in Cork, Ireland, with a subsidiary in San Diego, California. It is developing oral vaccines for fin fish and functional feed additives for crustaceans. Fish farming is a $200 billion industry globally, and each year an estimated $10 billion of fish are lost due to disease outbreaks. The only way to immunise shrimps against diseases like White Spot Syndrome Virus (WSSV alone causes stock loses of $1.5 billion to the shrimp industry annually) is to inject each one manually, a costly process, while shellfish cannot be injected at all. As a result, most shrimps are not vaccinated, with farmers using antibiotics and anti-microbial compounds in the feed to protect themselves against such disease outbreaks. These practices are often harmful for the environment, and can harm wild fish. In addition, the use of antibiotics in our food chain has been linked to the emergence of drug-resistant superbugs, an increasing problem around the world. To overcome this challenge, MicroSynbiotiX has developed a microalgae-based oral delivery platform which acts as a carrier for vaccines and functional feed additives. Microalgae is the smallest plant in the world and is a natural food source for fish and crustaceans. This enables microalgae-based oral vaccines and functional feed additives to be incorporated into fish feed, protecting farmed fish and crustaceans against disease outbreaks in a cost effective, user friendly and sustainable way. The company is headed up by Simon Porphy in Ireland and Dr. Kwang Chul and Antonio Lamb in California.

Rootwave has developed unique electrical technology which electrocutes weeds, whilst being safe to use for humans and animals. Their tag line ‘Zaps weeds, zero chemicals’ captures the benefits of what this unique technology offers. The company is developing a range of products for farming and agricultural use including a tractor based unit, an amenity unit for professional gardeners, and is also hoping to co-develop a wand for domestic use. Pesticides and herbicides are coming under increasing scrutiny by regulators who have linked them to cancers and other diseases, as well as polluting groundwater, and many products that farmers have relied on to manage weeds are increasingly being banned. Many people at home avoid spraying their plants while their pets and children are around. Rootwave’s revolutionary electrical technology offers a quick, safe, economical and sustainable solution that overcomes these issues, effectively boiling the weed from the inside out, and killing the plant, roots and seeds, but which doesn’t affect humans or animals, due to the particular frequency of energy used. The company is based near Stratford on Avon in England, and is headed up by Andrew Diprose. The company has secured significant grants from the EU Horizon 2020 initiative to help develop their technology.

If you think you have an AgTech business with superhuman potential, please apply for our 2018 programme. Applications to the Yield Lab 2018’s European Accelerator will open on 20th September and will run until 3rd November. Start-ups based in Europe that utilise technology to sustainably improve agricultural systems and food availability are eligible to apply, and the six programme dates are based mainly in Ireland, with trips to London and St Louis in Missouri. Interested applicants should apply via the website, www.theyieldlab.com/apply

The Yield Lab Accelerator for Europe is affiliated with The Yield Lab in St Louis, which was started up in 2014 by a group of senior AgTech and Venture Capital executives to help provide financial and mentoring support to early-stage AgTech companies to propel them towards commercial viability and success. To date The Yield Lab in St Louis has invested $1.9m into 16 start-up Agtech companies, who together have gone on to raise another $50m in capital since they became part of the Yield Lab family. The Yield Lab is one of the most active early stage Agtech investors in the world, and plans are at an advanced stage for opening other accelerators internationally. The Yield Lab envisions building out a global network of Agtech accelerators to enable a cross pollination of ideas, technology, world class talent, customers, suppliers and capital. This will support a new generation of globally competitive Agtech start-ups with deeply differentiated technology to become commercially successful, and in the process, provide unique and sustainable solutions to complex environmental problems that compromise human health and wellbeing.

Paul Finnerty is supported by Brian Clevinger, previously Venture Partner at The Yield Lab in St Louis as well as Partner with Prolog Ventures in the USA. Brian brings 20 years of venture capital experience, as well as an important link to the US market. The third partner is Nicky Deasy who oversees the day to day operations, as well as providing hands on mentoring and advice to the companies. Nicky is a Chartered Accountant, ex KPMG Corporate Finance and EY Corporate Finance, and has worked for many years advising early stage technology companies on raising equity and scaling commercially.
For further details, please visit our website www.theyieldlab.ie or email nicky@theyieldlab.com

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