KC-based TechAccel endeavors to guide startups through “the valley of death” stage that emerges after ideation, but before traction, said Brad Fabbri, noting the firm’s new venture, RNAissance Ag, is expected to disrupt the ag tech industry with environmentally-safe biopesticides.
“We try to find products and help develop them to make [farmers’] lives easier and make their businesses more profitable,” said Fabbri, chief science officer at the venture and tech development firm that focuses on plant and animal related products.
TechAccel — founded in 2014 based on an “equity-plus” model for investment — teams up with universities and researchers to incubate the next ag tech invention and cultivate the resulting startups from the ground up, Fabbri said, in addition to the firm’s more traditional investments.
“We have a really good chance of putting out a fantastic product that the farmers are really going to love [with RNAissance Ag],” he added. “And it’s all coming out of Kansas City and St. Louis area, so it’s not coming from the coast — just from a regional perspective, it’s really exciting.”
“We’re good at agriculture [in the Midwest,] among other things,” Fabbri laughed.
To build RNAissance, the firm collaborated with Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis to develop the RNAi-based tech that makes the still-in-the-works biopesticide products that is expected to disturb or push away pests, as well as harmless insects, to minimize damage to the existing biome, and to those who could possibly ingest the chemical, Fabbri said.
RNA exists in all living beings and is consumed by humans on a daily basis, he added, noting the utilization of the molecule in insecticides is not a new concept, though the design RNAissance puts forth is expected to be more effective than other iterations.
“[RNAi-based products] are similar to those new cancer treatments that are very specific and just attack the cancer cells … [as opposed to] the nasty chemotherapy that can make all your hair fall out and get you sicker,” Fabbri said. “I think it’s the way that a lot of agriculture [products] are going to go.”
“I don’t want to say that if [RNAi products] are successful, then everybody’s just going to use RNAi-based insecticides,” he added. “If it is successful, what it’s going to be is another tool.”
TechAccel’s recent investment in biotech firm GreenLight Biosciences, based in Medford, Massachusetts, for an amount undisclosed — GreenLight announced a $50 million series round earlier in 2019 — made an important contribution to the use of RNAi for the KC company, said Fabbri.
“Up to just a few years ago, RNA at the cheapest was maybe one to $10,000 per gram, which is too expensive to spray on a field, but GreenLight got it below a dollar a gram which actually makes it possible to actually use RNA as an ag chemical,” he said. “So that was really important that we’re doing.”
TechAccel’s investment model is catered to be flexible to the needs of the company, whether they’re supplementing a round or incubating up a pre-company idea, he added, noting patient investors eliminate the mad rush for a quick exit.
“We’re certainly hopeful that it’s not too long [before] we will have some [companies] that exit — but we are still pretty young,” said Fabbri. “We try to balance our portfolio with firms that might have a quicker exit versus things that may take longer to develop. Our investors are very astute and they know that a lot of the things that they’re investing in takes some time to nurture.”