Funding and collaboration combine to provide ‘top talent, great ideas and world-class facilities’
Terramera Inc. knows a lot about growth, and not just because it develops technology that improves crop yields.
Since its founding in 2010, the Vancouver-based company has raised more than $100-million from investors including Ospraie Ag Science, Seed2Growth Ventures, and Ingka Greentech AB (IKEA’s clean-tech venture arm). This has helped Terramera grow to more than 135 employees—and counting— while developing its Actigate™ targeted performance technology, which promises to reduce global synthetic pesticide loads by 80% and increase global farm productivity by 20% by 2030.
One of its most significant steps forward originated closer to home, however, when Terramera became a founding member of the B.C.-based Digital Technology Supercluster in early 2018.
Joining forces with this cross-industry collaboration of diverse organizations, including some of Canada’s biggest names in healthcare, communications, natural resources, technology, and transportation, was “an acknowledgement of the great work B.C. businesses are doing in the digital tech sector,” says Dr. Steve Slater, Terramera’s Vice President of Strategic Initiatives. “It is an opportunity to advance our sustainable agriculture technologies to be truly transformational. Imagine a world where we dramatically reduce the use of synthetic pesticides while increasing global agriculture yields. This funding affirms innovation and the type of thinking that could not only change the industry, but also the world.”
Supercluster funding has allowed the company to pursue genomics technology “much earlier than would have been possible otherwise, and in a more thorough way,” Slater says. “Through genomics, we are working to combat Leaf Rust, a devastating fungal disease that attacks small grains like wheat, a crop that Canada exports in vast quantities.”
The collaboration fueled by the Supercluster is already paying off. As Terramera launches its own Supercluster project, which will see the company apply computational chemistry to fungicide development, it is working with a host of new tech sector and academic partners. “The Supercluster has been instrumental in helping us identify and form these new partnerships, which in turn have allowed us to expand the scope of our work,” Slater says.
One of these new partnerships is working with Compression.ai, a startup that is expected to be part of Terramera’s core database processing pipeline. Terramera connected with Compression.ai at a Supercluster event meant to foster community between companies that normally would not interact. “The Supercluster doesn’t just provide funding, they also create community and opportunities for us to connect”, explained Slater. At the time, Terramera was struggling with the capital and operational costs of data storage as part of their computational biochemistry work. The conversation led Terramera to discover that Compression.ai’s particular application of artificial intelligence (AI) did what they required. The collaboration resulted in a likely savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next several years. “In our normal course of business, we would not have engaged with Compression.ai. However, as a result of early exploratory discussions catalyzed by the Supercluster, our exposure to them changed our approach to the problem in a more efficient and effective way,” Slater explains.
Academic partners have been similarly beneficial, as Terramera builds on BC’s research excellence in data analytics and genomics. “On this proposal, we have people from Simon Fraser University, Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, Sightline Innovation and the Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency.” Slater says, adding that Genome BC is funding much of the project’s DNA and RNA sequencing. “By working with these partners we can access the expertise and technologies well-developed in other sectors and apply them to the problems we face in agriculture, amplifying the ability of other companies to take new ideas and approaches to solving problems unique to their fields,” explains Slater.
Over the past two years, Terramera has nearly doubled their workforce, and Slater says he expects they will add up to 50 new employees this year, with its Supercluster partners also adding talent, hiring over 33 full-time employees in 2019, and 29 full-time employees in 2018. “Through the Supercluster, we have access to top talent, great ideas, and world-class facilities. And because we’re setting up a new project, we can carefully choose the people we work with to make sure we are accessing talent that is complementary to what we already have in-house.”
Growth is great, to be sure, but smart growth is even better.