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Triangle: Sowing seeds

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By Clifton Barnes

Investments in agriculture technology startups worldwide grew from $860 million in 2013 to $4.6 billion in 2015 for an obvious reason. Crop production needs to double over the next 35 years as global population soars to nearly 10 billion by 2050, or about 75 million additional people annually. Now, a new North Carolina venture is on the front line of the effort to feed the world. AgTech Accelerator, established in May and headquartered in Research Triangle Park, is focused on developing life-sciences companies that can help spur advances in crop and livestock production.

While an arm of Pasadena, Calif.-based Alexandria Real Estate Equities is the lead investor in the $11.5 million initial funding, the new venture also has backing from ag industry giants Bayer and Syngenta Ventures, which have sites in North Carolina. Alexandria is developing a 56-acre campus for life-sciences companies at RTP as part of a broader plan to make the suburban park more attractive to tech workers. The accelerator will move into the first phase of the Alexandria Center for Science Technology and Agriculture, which is now under construction.

Two of the six other backers are Hatteras Venture Partners and Pappas Capital, run by some of North Carolina’s best-known tech investors. The eight academic institutional partners include  Duke University, N.C. State University and
UNC Chapel Hill.

CEO John Dombrosky, a former manager of Switzerland-based seed company Syngenta, says that it’s difficult for ag innovators to handle everything required for a successful business. “We are taking the business execution lift off of our startups’ plates,” he says. “Everyday challenges like securingcapital, finding highly sought-after greenhouse/lab space, hiring management —  everything is built in through our model, making it easier to rapidly advance new innovation.”

RTP is the best location for the center, he adds, because it is close to a major concentration of big ag companies and the three research universities and is in the midst of a diversified agricultural state that is a key supplier of pork, poultry, tobacco and many other products.

Ag Tech Accelerator expects each deal to be structured differently, depending on the technology, involvement of company founders and the amount of money needed to move the project forward. The goal is to share equity with the founders and related universities, Dombrosky says.


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK — G1 Therapeutics raised $47 million in a funding led by Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management. Existing investors that participated in the financing include Wilmington-based Eshelman Ventures and Durham-based Hatteras Venture Partners. The biotech company plans to use the proceeds to advance development of its treatments for lung and breast cancer.

MORRISVILLE — Accel-KKR will acquire SciQuest for about $509 million, reflecting a 34% premium over its closing price the day before the deal was announced. The e-commerce company was started here in 1995, went public in 2010 and employs 510 people, including more than 300 at its local headquarters. Accel-KKR is a Menlo Park, Calif.-based private-equity firm that invests in mid-market technology firms.

MORRISVILLE — Arrivo BioVentures secured $49 million to launch a drug-development company focused on treating conditions affected by the central nervous system. Ireland-based Jazz Pharmaceuticals is the lead investor in the financing, which also included Solas BioVentures and Rex Health Ventures.


Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein launched an effort to assist private and public universities on matters including bond funding, real estate, intellectual property, civil rights and government relations. The group includes 15 attorneys at multiple offices and will be led by Russell Killen and Will Cannon, both from the firm’s Raleigh office. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill with a law degree from Duke University, Killen, 47, was mayor of Knightdale between 2007 and 2015 and advises universities in real-estate and construction transactions. Cannon, 36, has a background in trademark and copyright law and graduated from Davidson College, with a law degree from UNC Chapel Hill. Co-founded in 1965 by former North Carolina Gov. Terry Sanford and Hugh Cannon, Parker Poe this year is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its Raleigh office. The firm has about 200 lawyers at seven offices in the Carolinas and Georgia.

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