Leading global agrifood technology capital investor, Finistere Ventures is helping to bridge the gap between New Zealand's "world-leading" agriculture research through to the commercialisation of start-up companies and innovative technology.
The company has launched the NZ$40M Finistere Aotearoa Fund in partnership with New Zealand Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), to help develop the country’s robust technology and intellectual property pipeline, which promotes solutions addressing sustainability and nutrition needs.
“To remain globally competitive as a high-value food producer, NZ has had to develop incredibly efficient production systems," Finistere’s New Zealand Venture Partner, Dean Tilyard said. "NZ has firmly established itself as a leading agricultural exporter thanks to its proficient growers and supply chain. Much of this efficiency has been gained through the application of science, and NZ now has leading science platforms in plant breeding and environmental tech that set it apart as a leader in the agrifood tech ecosystem.”
Photo: Work at the BioLumic facility, one of Finistere's clients
The NZ Government's Agritech Industry Transformation Plan was launched last year, highlighting that investment was a key constraint for the sector. Mr Tilyard explains that NZ is a Centre of Excellence in agritech and foodtech Research and Development (R&D) with high levels of public funding and very efficient production systems.
"This world-class R&D leads to start-ups with good IP and unique value propositions," he said. "Development is also very cost-effective when compared to other areas. There is a supportive government with a range of grants and programmes, as well as extremely efficient production systems for early market testing – an essential element for agritech start-ups. However, most NZ start-ups find the transition into international markets challenging. Finistere Ventures is committed to accelerating their transition to a global market by giving them access to strategic, connected capital.”
The fund will focus on supporting high-potential technologies with a concentration on advanced crop protection technologies, nutrient management, alternative proteins, food delivery, and supply chain advances to promote a healthier, more sustainable food and ag ecosystem. While Mr Tilyard says two prime examples of Finistere portfolio companies that have roots in NZ-based research platforms and have "incredible potential" in the ag ecosystem include BioLumic and ZeaKal.
"BioLumic understands the relationship between ultraviolet light and plant growth through applying light recipes that increase positive plant traits and ultimately significant increases in yield," Mr Tilyard said. "The company has customers and impressive trials in horticulture, cannabis and soy crops. ZeaKal increases a plant’s ability to capture carbon and sunlight, allowing crops to store more energy, which translates into increased productivity per acre, higher nutrient density and improved carbon capture and nutrient efficiency."
A broader industry example of NZ agrifood innovation, according to Mr Tilyard, has been the development of NZ’s kiwifruit exports, where over 545,000 tonnes of fresh fruit were exported in 2019 with a value of NZ$2.3 billion (US$1.6billion). Much of the value creation and development is underpinned by long-term breeding programmes by Zespri and Plant and Food Research and the release of new varieties including gold kiwifruit.
But he says the support will go beyond simply a financial backing from Finistere Ventures.
"Venture investing means long-term relationships, and Finistere puts considerable resources into understanding a company’s technology and value proposition prior to investment and then supporting the start-up’s acceleration after investment," Mr Tilyard said. "This support involves connecting companies into Finistere’s global network of partners and investors. We are active investors and work with boards and management to apply our specialist agrifood knowledge to help them secure talent, partners, customers and further funding. Our company-building focus is particularly important for NZ start-ups to access international capital, partners and networks.”
Photo: Zeakal CEO/Co-founder Han Chen
Finistere Ventures Co-Founder and Partner Arama Kukutai added that building relationships and trust are at the centre of his company's investing process.
"We spend a lot of time getting to know the people and companies we invest in during the initial due diligence process, and then partner with them along their journey post-closing," he said. "Once companies become part of the Finistere portfolio, we try to help them get all of the pieces in place to prepare to scale – from expanding their teams and appointing the best board, to finetuning their product development plans and amplifying their testing initiatives. We are constantly evaluating start-up companies across the full agrifood tech ecosystem – from digital ag advances and indoor farming to alternative proteins/novel ingredients and supply chain/delivery innovations – and are excited to deepen our investment in NZ’s most promising agrifood technology advancements. Dean Tilyard will be actively meeting with start-up companies throughout NZ to support our sourcing efforts."
While New Zealand has been identified as a prime example of an innovation epicentre with substantial promise in agrifood technology, Finistere Ventures also has ecosystem strongholds established across North America, as well as Israel and Ireland.
“Bringing the connected capital and international networks needed to nurture its raw technical and entrepreneurial talent, we have already funded top NZ companies and have earned the support of investors from around the globe like Rabobank, RIV Capital Inc. and Yamaha as part of our ongoing delegations to the region," Mr Kukutai said. "We are committed to giving NZ agrifood innovators the international perspective – and network –that is needed to build a vibrant startup ecosystem and ensure that more New Zealand companies become major players in the global agrifood sector.”
The new fund operations will be based in Palmerston North at “The Factory”, a leading R&D and company incubation cluster that has a longstanding relationship with Finistere. Dean Tilyard is also Executive Director at Sprout Agritech, which is a business accelerator designed to fund the next generation of global future food entrepreneurs.