Kiwi agritech Metrovate plants NZ$1 million Seed raise

- May 16, 2024 2 MIN READ
Nikolai Macnee
Metrovate founder Nikolai Macnee
New Zealand agritech startup Metrovate has raised NZ$1 million (A$920k) to develop its precision plant growth “biostimulant”.

The investment was made by early-stage accelerator and commercialisation firm Sprout Agritech with support from its investment partners, US-based Finistere Ventures, Kiwi dairy giant Fonterra and venture builder OurCrowd, as well as the Te Pokapū Auaha Callaghan Innovation’s Deep Tech Incubator program.

Metrovate is tackling one of the key challenges for farmers when it comes to using biostimulants – ie. things other than fertiliser and pesticides – to promote plant growth: the fact that its impact means everything outside of the crop, including weeks, are also bolstered.

Metrovate has a purpose-built lab in the Newmarket Innovation Precinct at the University of Auckland.

The funding, augmented by an Agricultural and Marketing Research and Development Trust (AGMARDT) grant, will be used to validate efficacy and refine an initial targeted product. Further field trials and R&D will follow the initial screening underway before the startup can scale a commercial solution.

Founder Nikolai Macnee has combined molecular biology with machine learning to isolate the natural signalling molecules needed to develop precision biostimulants that improve plant growth on the target crop and while being environmentally friendly and biodgradeable.

“Globally, there is mounting pressure on farmers to clean up their environmental impact. In addition, climate change is driving outsized losses that could lead to national food security challenges that in turn are driving exorbitant pricing,” he said.

“Metrovate’s goal is to improve the tooling we use to help growers achieve crop resilience, faster recovery and better yields.”

Macnee, the chief scientific officer grew up on Great Barrier Island where regenerative farming and producing food in an ethical manner was central to their way of life. The challenge was those methods don’t scale.

“Metrovate’s core value is producing food without harming our environment. To do this, our tooling needs to improve in a way that doesn’t destroy waterways and rivers or augment our reliance on fossil fuels,” he said

“Driven by machine learning and artificial intelligence, our platform technology employs unique computational techniques that allow us to design and refine biostimulants which can both broadly improve growth and, where applicable, achieve some of the highest specificity in the world.”

Existing plant growth regulators and biostimulants can also impact surrounding flora and fauna that come into contact with it, with potentially harmful ‘off-target’ consequences.

Sprout Agritech chief investment officer Warren Bebb said Metrovate tackles the key problem with their use.

“Traditional biostimulants are either safe to apply, but not entirely functional; or highly functional but based on synthetic chemicals that aren’t safe,” he said.

“Metrovate’s formula will be both safe to apply and functional, reimagining an important industry that is ripe for disruption in the form of more sustainable solutions.”

Macnee said there will be other benefits for farmer when it comes to the costs of production and their environmental impact.

“Precision biostimulants will reduce the need for plant growth regulators, herbicides and pesticides. Because they speed up growth, farmers will also require less fertiliser per plant and be able to improve yield naturally without genetic modification,” he said.

“Unlike genetic modification that takes a long period of time to generate elite, genetically stable plant lines, precision biostimulants interact with the native machinery of plant cells resulting in an immediate and strong growth response.”

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