Mobius pbc, an early-stage company that creates waste-based biodegradable polymers to promote sustainable agriculture, won the grand prize of a $500,000 equity investment at Western Growers’ 2019 AgSharks Competition Nov. 12. The pitch competition is one of the agricultural industry’s most popular and coveted events for companies developing key technological innovations for agriculture. The funding was awarded by S2G Ventures (Seed 2 Growth).
“Improving and maintaining the sustainability of our food system is critical for the future of agriculture and requires innovations focused on everything from the 260 billion tons of unavoidable organic food waste produced each year to the half-million tons of single-use plastics used on the farm for things such as mulch film and seed coatings,” said Tony Bova, CEO & co-founder of mobius. “At mobius, we’re incredibly excited to have S2G and Western Growers as partners, helping us develop technologies to convert that unavoidable organic waste into much-needed products like waste-based fertilizers, biodegradable seed and fertilizer coatings, and biodegradable mulch films and nursery containers. The direct connection with the front lines of the food system sustainability challenge – our growers – will be invaluable as we push for a circular economy in agriculture and pursue our mission to create a world where ‘There’s Wonder in Waste.’”
AgSharks, which launched in 2017 to help budding agtech startups bring their inventions from development to market, was the first agtech event to offer real-time investment opportunities in front of a live audience. During this year’s competition, mobius faced off against four other companies that are also building new technologies to solve agriculture’s most pressing issues – everything from labor availability and water scarcity to food safety and compliance costs.
“As agriculture faces an intensification of regulatory pressures and a growing scarcity of resources – shortage of skilled labor, exhaustion of land and depletion of water – farmers are increasingly turning to innovation and technology to remain viable,” said Western Growers President/CEO Tom Nassif. “We are encouraged by talented agtech entrepreneurs, such as those at mobius, that are inventing solutions to help farmers accomplish their noble goal of feeding the world. mobius’ promising technology will play a role in sustaining agriculture, as well as aiding the industry in taking a great leap forward in food production.”
mobius is building a future where food, forestry and agricultural waste streams are upcycled into valuable chemical and material building blocks. Its first product is a proprietary, biodegradable polymer made from lignin, a natural material found in all grasses and trees that is produced as waste at a rate of over 50 million tons each year by the paper and biofuel industries. With this biopolymer, mobius is creating bio-based, biodegradable plastic pellets for applications in agriculture, foodservice packaging, horticulture and beyond. The applications for these products include thermoplastic materials for plantable horticultural and nursery containers and plastic mulch films; matrix materials for controlled-release fertilizers; and in the future, potential seed coating materials.
The company, along with its competitors, pitched seven expert judges who evaluated each company on the strength of its solution and potential to scale, among other assessment categories. The panel of judges – which was comprised of leaders in the investment, agriculture and tech industries – provided feedback to the companies, and after deliberation and receiving input from the audience, they offered mobius the top prize.
“Western Growers, through the AgSharks competition, continues to lead the industry in supporting entrepreneurs that are building solutions for the best growers in the world,” said Chuck Templeton, managing director at S2G Ventures. “Combining our investment in mobius with WG’s market knowledge and access, we can more rapidly deliver on building a healthy and sustainable food system.”
Templeton was on the judges panel, which also included Neill Callis, general manager at Turlock Fruit Company Inc.; Audre Kapacinskas, vice president at S2G Ventures; Frank Maconachy, president and CEO at Ramsay Highlander, Inc.; Aidan Mouat, CEO and co-founder at Hazel Technologies; Craig Reade, partner at Bonipak Produce; and Matthew Walker, managing director at S2G Ventures.
Founded in 1926, Western Growers represents local and regional family farmers growing fresh produce in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico. Its members and their workers provide over half the nation’s fresh fruits, vegetables and tree nuts, including nearly half of America’s fresh organic produce. Some members also farm throughout the U.S. and in other countries so people have year-round access to nutritious food.
S2G Ventures (Seed to Growth) is a multi-stage venture fund investing in food and agriculture. The fund’s mission is to catalyze innovation to meet consumer demands for healthy and sustainable food. S2G has identified sectors across the food system that are ripe for change, and is building a multi-stage portfolio including seed, venture and growth stage investments. Core areas of interest for S2G are agriculture, ingredients, infrastructure and logistics, IT and hardware, food safety and technology, retail and restaurants, and consumer brands. For more information about S2G, visit www.s2gventures.com.