According to a statement issued by SAS, the partnership and collaboration will “allow select NC agriculture and food startups to gain guidance and executive leadership from Pappas and access to industry-leading analytics software, data science expertise and cloud services from SAS.”
Karen LeVert, a venture partner at Pappas Capital, will lead the expansion of the firm’s specialized fund management business, according to the company. That includes launching specialized funds related to agricultural technology, or AgTech, firms, LeVert told WRAL TechWire in an interview today.
For the SAS partnership, LeVert noted that the collaborators plan to target “AgTech start-ups that can meet the world’s future food needs, more specifically in crop protection, seeds and traits, precision ag, animal health and nutrition, and indoor agriculture.”
These sectors are also ones that will be able to use SAS’ analytics tools to accelerate development of technology and a company’s growth, LeVert said.
“SAS wants to work with startup companies with interesting technologies who show promise and need help with data analytics,” said John Gottula, director of crop science, agriculture at SAS. “We have teams of problem solvers who come together to tackle business challenges companies are facing and we solve them through the use of data analytics.”
“We can expedite the company’s progress toward a goal they may not have been able to achieve because of their own lack of internal resources,” said Gottula. “Sometimes, these startups are portfolio companies of venture capital firms, like Pappas Capital, who SAS has relationships with. Other times they’re startups that come to us or we engage with in other ways.”
Pappas Capital has previously made direct investments into AgTech firms, and currently has seven AgTech portfolio companies, LeVert said.
That includes Boragen, Inc., which is building a platform using the element boron to fight plant disease and protect crops,
“Boragen is a great example of what can happen when a startup gets access to advanced analytics software and expertise,” said Gottula. “SAS and Pappas are looking for opportunities to improve all aspects of agriculture and food production and, in Boragen’s case, it was speeding up the process of getting new Boron-based crop treatments from the lab to the field.”
“SAS AgTech experts worked closely with Boragen to apply AI and machine learning to testing data, allowing researchers to better predict which products will be more effective and should be moved to the next testing phase, and which can be abandoned, generating greater time and cost savings,” said Gottula.
The result is that the scientific researchers at the company can better predict effectiveness in compounds that could be advanced into the next phase, meaning “the most promising products are moved into field testing quicker, shortening development time and generating greater cost savings,” the statement notes.
“The Boragen story is an example for what we hope to accomplish for AgTech companies across the state,” said LeVert.
Boragen raised $2 million in capital in January 2020.
“There’s still a lot of room for agriculture companies to improve,” noted Gottula.
Gottula referenced the findings of the NewVantage Partners 2020 Big Data and Executive Survey, which asked executives of Fortune 1000 companies about their company’s approach to data science and data, which found that 37.8% of firms believed they were “data-driven.”
“Our observations are that opportunities to integrate data science are even more wanting in agriculture,” said Gottula.
And the Triangle could be a hotbed of activity in the years to come, as the company noted in a statement that there are more than 100 AgTech companies in the Triangle region, with nearly $92 billion contributed to the North Carolina economy from agriculture and agribusiness in 2020, and that one in every six workers in North Carolina work in the industry, according to data from the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce.
“Both SAS and Pappas have unique expertise that will help propel the growth of entrepreneurial companies in North Carolina,” said Gottula, “as well as attract more AgTech companies to the state.”
Gottula noted that there were no financial terms to the partnership between the two organizations, SAS and Pappas Capital, and that the collaboration came from prior relationship “that has been developing over the years.”
“We truly believe North Carolina is in a leadership position to revolutionize the Ag and Food sectors,” said LeVert. “We are very excited about this partnership with SAS and how their tools have the potential to digitize the oldest industry, agriculture.”
LeVert is also the president of Ag TechInventures (AgTI), which according to a LinkedIn profile is “an innovation lab that further develops promising intellectual property in agbiotech and infotech/precision agriculture to form new spin-off companies positioned for acquisition by leading Ag companies.”