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Bayer AG backs chickpea startup in $7M round

Bags of differently colored chickpeas.

Photo: Courtesy of NuCicer

NuCicer, an ag-tech startup out of Davis, California, raised $7 million in seed funding led by Bayer AG's investing group to beef up protein in chickpeas.

Why it matters: More and more ag-tech startups are blurring the line between agriculture and biotechnology, and pharma groups like Bayer are already staking their claim in the growing industry.

Details: Paimun Amini, a director for Leaps by Bayer, will take a board seat as part of the majority-equity deal. NuCicer CEO Kathryn Cook declined to disclose the round's valuation.

How it works: NuCicer's chickpeas are specifically bred to contain more protein than conventional chickpeas using research from University of California, Davis, that identified genes in other legumes linked to protein content.

  • The seed funding will go toward manufacturing costs associated with commercial production of the protein-heavy chickpeas, Cook tells Axios.

Zoom out: Bayer's venture arm, known as Leaps by Bayer, invests primarily in life sciences and ag-tech startups, with a focus on companies in both categories that rely heavily on biotech and genomic sciences.

  • It invests early on in the startup's lifecycle, when capital needs are greatest, to get the company from the research stages to commercialization.
  • As an impact fund, it can afford to take chances on relatively new technology that may not see fiscal returns for longer periods of time.

What we're watching: Whether other pharma groups follow Bayer's lead and wade into the ag-tech industry as it continues to gain momentum.

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