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Economy & Business

Agtech Company Benson Hill Expands Again With Crop Research Facility

Benson Hill_Crop Accelerator_2_25.jpg
Benson Hill
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Benson Hill's new crop accelerator, pictured here in a rendering, is expected to open by the end of the year in Creve Coeur.

Benson Hill announced Thursday it’s launching a crop accelerator.

The nearly 50,000-square-foot agriculture research facility will be located near the company’s new headquarters in Creve Coeur.

Benson Hill is partnering with St. Louis-based venture capital firm Lagomaj Capital on the project. It provided more than $20 million to upgrade an existing building.

Benson Hill CEO Matt Crisp said the expansion will help the company grow and test more nutrient-dense soybeans and yellow pea plants at a faster rate.

“There’ll be 20,000 square feet of adaptive growth chambers and houses. We’ll be able to install next-generation lighting and controls systems,” he said. “We’ll be able to essentially control every parameter of a plant’s growth.”

Benson Hill rendering
Benson Hill
Benson Hill's crop accelerator will open about a quarter mile from its new headquarters, which is located in the 39 North Agtech Innovation District in Creve Coeur.

Crisp said that the facility will be operational by the end of the year, and that about 50 new people will be hired. That would bring the company’s headcount to more than 200.

Benson Hill, which Crisp co-founded in 2012, is considered a rising star in the ag-tech industry. It has raised several rounds of funding, including $150 million it secured in October from the investment arm of Google, among others. Crisp said some of that money will go toward developing the new facility.

Felix Williams, founder and managing director of Lagomaj Capital, said partnering on the expansion goes beyond providing money. His firm has been investing in Benson Hill for years.

“Every day, both of our teams are on calls deciding things all the way from plumbing fixtures to certain types of equipment that will be installed,” he said.

The firm will also employ someone full-time at the facility once it opens.

Williams said it’s unusual for a venture capital firm to invest directly into a research facility, but he hopes it drives more innovation at Benson Hill.

“We believe that entrepreneurialism and technology hold the keys to solving many of today’s biggest challenges, and we also believe in thinking outside the box. And that’s where this facility comes in,” he said.

Crisp said the company hasn’t slowed down during the pandemic. It opened a new headquarters in September within the 39 North Agtech Innovation District, which is anchored by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

“Another area that the pandemic has also brought to a lot of people's attention is the healthiness of the food that we eat,” he said. “When we think about ingredients that go into, for instance, plant-based alternatives, like an Impossible Burger, or Beyond Sausage — these are taking off in the market.”

Crisp said the company is focusing on innovation around plant-based protein and the supply chain.

Benson Hill also announced three additions to its Scientific Advisory Board, a semi-independent group of advisers who weigh in on the company’s decisions. They include: Mark Matlock, a food scientist; Julia Bailey-Serres, a plant biologist and professor; and Gary Fogel, CEO of Natural Selection and a professor with expertise in machine learning.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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