Making agriculture smarter

I’ve always been interested in the global investment thematic around the world’s existential need for better sustainable crop yield on a planet where land is shrinking, and the population is increasing. Having done quite a lot of work researching it, I could never translate it into a specific investment opportunity, but then I met FA Bio. In late 2020, FungiAlert, now FA Bio, came to my attention when they were fundraising and sparked my curiosity as a solution to some of the challenges we face as a planet. 

I have also always been interested in performance through teams and the power of performance environments. This is a theme that I keep returning to. My early career was in very practical hospitality businesses and in the 1990s I was a strategy consultant with McKinsey. I followed this by spending some time in senior management roles at large retail businesses until 2004, when I was appointed Operating Partner at leading private equity firm TDR Capital, where I spent 16 years. I also have spent part of my career advising in elite sports which plays into my relatively diverse toolkit of experience.

In the last two years, I took an active interest in investing in founder-led start-ups and university spin-out technology solutions. I have made 15 of these types of investments in the last 18 months. In the case of FA Bio, I led the last investment round on behalf of new investors and have held a Board observer seat since March 2021. I was, as were other new investors at that time, hugely impressed by Angela, Kerry and Founding Chairman, Paul Atherton.

FA Bio’s microbial discovery platform

At the time I first invested FA Bio had an exciting opportunity to ‘pivot’ themselves from a soil testing business to creating a unique microbial discovery platform, and I was keen to see it through to fully realising this development over the next few years. FA Bio, based at the world-leading Rothamsted Research Centre, is today well progressed in building it’s platform which can discover microbials necessary for the next generation of biofungicides, biostimulants and other exciting use cases such as carbon sequestration and soil remediation four times faster and four times as efficiently than its competitors. Even though it is still early days for FA Bio, I believed, and continue to believe, they are doing something really exciting, and there are many ways this could prove to be truly transformational.

As a Board observer following my initial investment, I had been able to understand FA Bio at very close quarters. Therefore, when its Founding Chairman, Paul Atherton, had to step down from Chairmanship very unfortunately due to ill health earlier this year, he and the Board asked me to take on the role of Chairman. Clearly, I knew I was stepping into big shoes on a moving train, but I knew the direction and strategy well, having been a participating passenger on that train for some time by then. 

My role as Chair

My role as Chair of the FA Bio Board ensures we get the most effective challenge and support from our group of highly talented and experienced directors as we mentor, champion and develop its founders, team and organisation. Bringing my business and investment experiences to bear, I act as a sounding board to work through FA Bio’s decision-making. My role as Chair is focused right now on fundraising, to provide the resources for FA Bio to develop further and complete field trials of several new products over the next 3-5 years.

The approach at FA Bio is based upon focusing on biology versus its competitors, many of which take a more data-driven approach. Different approaches can and will co-exist, but FA Bio’s approach, using its patented SporSenZ technology and focusing on fungi as its starting point, is a real differentiator. FA Bio’s ability to take months and years out of the R&D process to develop high-efficacy new bioproducts is a huge advantage to it becoming a highly impactful, valuable and profitable unique international microbial discovery platform.

Agricultural processes are generally becoming smarter, with more day-to-day use of data, artificial intelligence, robotics and automation. The specific adoption of more biological solutions and greater use of microbials can reduce the input of expensive environmentally harmful products by the industry, ensuring global food security whilst also taking care of our soils. FA Bio is facilitating this adoption.

At FA Bio’s current stage of development, my role as Chairman is about balancing process, prioritisation and pragmaticism whilst staying curious and passionate. The opportunities and challenges faced working in start-up companies and with founders in this space are both intellectually and practically challenging. This is what motivates me. I am very lucky to be working with people of such potential doing such amazing things.

If you have a specific interest in investing in our current financing round, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Steve Headington, Chairman at FA Bio

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