AgTech Venture Capital News

North Carolina and The Triangle are blossoming into agriculture startup.

North Carolina, and the Triangle in particular, has quietly blossomed into a hotbed of startups that are applying cutting-edge technology to agriculture.

North Carolina state has at least 50 entrepreneurial agricultural technology companies, with 28 of those companies based in the Triangle, according to data compiled by the nonprofit Council for Entrepreneurial Development.

Scott Johnson, vice president of agricultural biotechnology at the state-funded N.C. Biotechnology Center said, “I think when people think about ag biotech and ag biotech startups, they think about really three geographies: here in North Carolina, St. Louis, Mo., and UC-Davis near Sacramento, Calif.”

Comparing the size of these startup clusters, Johnson added, is problematic “because everybody talks about ag biotech with a little bit different definition.”

Indeed, CED talks about ag tech companies while the Biotech Center focuses on ag biotech companies, which it defines as applying the tools of biotechnology “to crops, livestock, forestry and marine life to produce more food, fuels, fiber and goods.”

Whichever way you cut it, the Triangle’s crop of entrepreneurial companies in this sector runs the gamut from A to Z – AgBiome to Zoion Pharma.

AgBiome, which has raised more than $50 million from investors, has 44 full-time and 14 part-time employees and recently submitted an application to market its first product – a natural, or biological, fungicide that could be used by organic farmers. Zoion Pharma is a virtual company nurtured by $80,000 in Biotech Center loans that is developing a treatment for canine dry eye and is seeking a corporate partner.

These homegrown companies complement industry giants such as BASF, Bayer CropScience and Syngenta that each have hundreds of employees in the Triangle.

Altogether, according to the Biotech Center, more than 80 ag biotech companies of all sizes employ more than 8,700 workers across the state, making North Carolina “the global hub of ag biotech.” In 2010, the Biotech Center launched an initiative to facilitate the growth of the ag biotech sector which, it notes, combines “the state’s two largest industries – agriculture and biotechnology.”