19 May 2022, Missouri: Solis Agrosciences, a new company out of St. Louis, Missouri, has just launched its “Plant Pipeline as a Service” platform to assist ag biotech startups with their research and development needs on the road to commercialization.
Through its fee-for-service model, Solis can create transgenic and gene-edited plants for startups in addition to connecting those companies with resources, infrastructure, and talent needed to get products into growers’ hands faster.
Solis was founded by BioGenerator, the investment arm of St. Louis-based nonprofit BioSTL, which has fueled much of the region’s recent innovations in biotech for both agriculture and healthcare.
- Longtime ag and biotech executives Mary Fernandes, Martha Schlicher, and Dave Smoller founded Solis in order to provide corporate-like opportunities to early-stage startups hoping to advance their research and reach commercialization.
- Solis has received equity-based funding from BioGenerator Ventures.
- The company currently has operations at the BioGenerator in Helix Labs in St. Louis’ 39 North Innovation District, an area of the city devoted to ag biotech.
How it works:
Ag biotech startups can outsource many of the complex processes and equipment requirements to Solis, who will provide the required tools and talent for creating and growing genetically modified plants. The Plant Pipeline-as-a-Service platform is an end-to-end solution that includes cloning, plant generation and seed production.
- Solis can provide resources such as greenhouse space, access to germplasm and raw materials, validating and running research, and molecular analysis tools, among other things.
- Fernandes says Solis can also link startups to third parties that handle other concerns, such as regulatory requirements for a product.
- Companies retain all of their IP in the process.
- Solis is starting off with services focused on soy and corn and will expand to other plant species based on customer demand.
Why it matters:
“There are so many startups trying to innovate, but even with funding those startups find it difficult to access proprietary processes and tools [and] have access to the specialized equipment that’s necessary,” Fernandes, who is also president of Solis, tells AFN. “The aim of Solis is to make innovation faster and simpler.”
Fernandes says Solis is addressing a major gap in the market. It takes 13 years on average to fully develop a biotech crop and costs roughly $136 million to bring that crop to market. Solis aims to shrink this timeline down to a few years for startups in an effort to accelerate innovation. The goal is to provide the same opportunities a Big Ag company would have and “level the playing field” for plant science innovation.
Fernandes adds that being in St. Louis is an important advantage, too, just down the street from the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, which fosters growth for numerous ag tech companies. “There’s a thriving startup ecosystem already,” she says. “And we have multinational big companies like Bayer, who also bring a lot to the table. And we’re in the Midwest, so we have a big lot of commodity row crop commodity associations, and we have access to the best talent here.”
The bigger picture:
The impacts of climate change, concerns around food security, and a growing global population all call for faster plant science innovation. Scaling and commercializing ag biotech solutions could help produce more environmentally friendly, climate-resistant crops for the future.
“We face huge problems,” explains Fernandes. “Food insecurity, global pandemics, war. There are so many startups trying to innovate, but even with funding those startups find it difficult to access proprietary processes and tools [and] have access to the specialized equipment that’s necessary.”
Ag biotech raked in $2.6 billion in VC investment in 2021, a figure largely driven by concerns around food security and sustainability.
“Scientists accelerate agricultural innovation to solve these big, huge global food challenges,” Fernandes adds. “We don’t think we can solve them all by ourselves, but if we enable all of these companies, we will make an impact.”