Two new faces recently joined us at Enko: Brennan Doyle as our first CFO, and David Jones as Chairperson of the Board. We’re eager to get to work integrating and learning from Brennan’s investing and biotech expertise, and David’s decades in agriculture.
Brennan joins us from his role as a Managing Director focused on biotech at Guggenheim Partners and before that, Solebury Trout and AllianceBernstein. David is an agricultural industry veteran: he spent many years as Syngenta’s Head of Business Development and has served as Chairperson for Arysta LifeScience, Plant Impact and BigSis.
The three of us recently spoke about what led them to Enko, what they most look forward to in their roles and the biggest challenges the agriculture industry faces. Below is a condensed and edited version of our conversation.
Brennan, after a long career working with investors across biotech and healthcare, what drew you to agriculture and a crop health company?
Brennan: What mattered most to me was finding a role where I could have the biggest impact. The answer became clear as I dug into the Agbiotech space. Enko is making a difference by using biotechnology tools to help growers around the world and ultimately, consumers too. That’s critical as climate change and population growth become bigger threats to food security. To me, there is no better way to make an impact.
David, you’ve been involved with Enko for some time. What about our mission led you to join the Commercial Advisory Board and ultimately, the Board of Directors?
David: I have always been fascinated with opportunities to commercialize new technology in agriculture. It has never been as important as it is now. Agricultural productivity must continue rising not only to sustain population growth, but also to play its part in tackling climate change; attending first to its own carbon footprint, but then to take on new roles in carbon sequestration, efficient water utilization and novel biofuels.
Most of the world’s suitable agricultural land is now being worked, so these challenges mean we need more from existing acres delivered in ways that preserve our fragile soils. Of the many agtech start-ups around today, Enko is unique in promising a jumpstart of AgChem innovation–which is stalling as current discovery methods fall short. AgChem is the most favored way growers deal with the ‘yield thieves’ of weeds, pests and diseases. These menaces are in the ascendent as older chemistry fails in the field or is withdrawn for regulatory reasons. Enko’s promise and mission is to reverse this, with rapid and broad discoveries of new chemistry that meets today’s exacting standards. What could be more exciting!
What do you each look forward to most in your new roles at Enko?
Brennan: Showing biotech, pharma and generalist healthcare investors the opportunity in Agbiotech: profitable, impact investing on a global scale. Companies like Enko that are using biotech tools – and that are well run, have solid IP, real revenues, operating model leverage, pricing power and target markets to address – are underrepresented in the investment community and particularly within healthcare and ESG portfolios.
What’s unique about Enko is that we are the only player in this space that has designed technology development and business operations around using a traditional pharma/biotech target-based approach. The space is full of green field opportunities with the benefit of hindsight – a playbook that biotech management teams and investors didn’t have when biotech emerged as an investment opportunity a few decades ago.
David: It is always people. It is good to be around a team that knows that what they are doing is important and is delivering results. Growing this team from the current core of founding professionals is the most motivating part.
Venture funding in agtech startups increased 35% from 2019-2020. Brennan, what do you attribute that to? What excites you most about investors’ growing interest in this space?
Brennan: Investors are becoming more cognizant of the compounding impacts of climate change and population growth on food security. We are looking toward a century plagued by more droughts, floods and pests, less arable land and lower food production if we continue on this path. Adding to that challenge, by 2050 the global population is predicted to grow by two billion people.
The way to feed all those people is not using more farmland. That would only accelerate the downward climate spiral that is already impacting all of our lives. Investors are starting to realize that the answer lies in more efficient crop production, which will be driven by the Agbiotech industry.
David, are you optimistic that the agricultural industry can solve these pressing problems?
David: Growers have an excellent track record stretching over 150 years of improving productivity through the adoption of successive waves of technology. We are now in a rich time where new technologies, mostly developed by boutique companies, are multiplying options for growers to farm productively and sustainably. Mobilizing these tools will overcome the challenges facing global agriculture. Enko is in the vanguard of this trend.