This week we met with Yehuda Borenstein, CEO and Co-Founder of ClimateCrop
The Climate Journey:
Before becoming a serial climate tech entrepreneur, Yehuda's previous venture was focused on developing electrolyzers and fuel cells, which led him to create a network in the climate area. Climate tech wasn't popular then, and people were skeptical about it. However, as interest in the area grew, Yehuda became more motivated and saw it as a mission.
Yehuda has now been building climate tech companies for the past few years. First, he looks for technologies that have the potential to make a significant impact on the climate and have a technological edge. Then, once he identifies a promising technology, he licenses it and uses it to build companies. He has started five companies, including ClimateCrop, of which he is the CEO, Repair Carbon, Reemag, NitroFix, and Carbonate.
ClimateCrop has developed a solution to meet the growing demand for essential crops by enhancing plant productivity. They use a precise non-GMO gene editing process to increase daily starch storage in plant leaves, improving photosynthetic efficiency. This enhancement results in increased yields, greater tolerance to heat waves and drought, and less strain on existing resources. By tapping into the hidden power of plants, ClimateCrop offers an innovative approach to meeting the global demand for essential crops.
We asked Yehuda a series of questions.
Q: What’s the story behind founding ClimateCrop?
Yehuda explains that he was approached by another entrepreneur who expressed interest in licensing technology from Weizmann. He invited Erez and Vivek, who previously worked on the technology at Weizmann, to have lunch with them to learn more. At the time, Yehuda did not have much knowledge about plants. However, they were fortunate enough to be accepted into an IndieBio (SOSV) accelerator program, which specializes in biotech and climate-related ventures.
As they continued to develop their technology, they realized that what they thought was an improvement in plant starch production was an improvement in photosynthesis efficiency. This discovery was significant because it is the "Holy Grail" for plant growers. By improving photosynthesis, they could enhance plant health, growth, and yield. This realization marked the start of ClimateCrop's journey in developing its technology and business model.
Q: What stage are you at right now?
Yehuda: Our team is working on upgrading major crops to make them more resilient to extreme climate conditions and have better yield, which will reduce the CO2 footprint of each crop. We hope to be successful both economically and in making a significant impact on climate change. The modifications that we’re making are a low CapEx improvement, meaning that there is no additional capital expenditure or operational expenditure required. Once the modification is made, there is no need for additional resources like water, fertilizer, or pesticides, and the carbon footprint can be reduced by 20%. The mutation will stay for the next generation if both the male and female plants have it.
Q: Your solution sounds almost trivial, why has no one done this before?
Yehuda: Previous attempts to improve photosynthesis have been complicated and often harmed other systems in the plant. However, we're doing a downstream change that doesn't harm any other system in the plant and still improves the photosynthesis efficiency. The team at Weizmann was the first to identify this specific protein in the plant.
Q: How do you envision your customer base?
Yehuda: Our business model is based on a mixed customer base consisting of seed companies, biotech companies, and food companies. For crops that are controlled by seed companies, we will work with those companies. For more open varieties, we will develop our own assets. And of course, we’ll collaborate with biotech and food companies.
Q: What are some of the main barriers that you’re facing?
We acknowledge that the regulatory landscape challenges the industry, so they opted for the non-GMO and CRISPR routes. CliamteCrop secured $2 million in investments from investors outside of Israel, despite the difficulties of evaluating deep tech and the accompanying business plans. They recognize that classic AgTech challenges, such as the impact of specific factors such as soil health, weather conditions, air quality, etc., will impact crop performance during field tests and verification data, also need to be addressed.
Q: Tell me about your rebranding from MataGene to ClimateCrop
Yehuda: We wanted to change our branding to better reflect the benefits that we provide rather than what our technology is based on.
Q: What makes your team a super team?
Yehuda: I believe that our success is largely attributed to the fact that we have two co-founders who are scientists from Weizmann and had previously worked on the technology during their postdoctoral studies. Their passion to continue the work and their understanding of the potential and impact of what we are doing are key factors that contribute to our team's effectiveness. Additionally, my co-founders possess complementary skills and a high level of motivation to succeed because they recognize the importance of our project.
The Super Team
Q: If you had one tip to give to other climate tech entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Yehuda: Climate tech is a marathon and it’s not easy, unlike many other ventures such as software. You need a lot of patience and an open mind as it's a new area.