Rob Leclerc has a pedigree that investors love. He holds a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Calgary and a PhD in computational biology from Yale University. In fact, at least ten years ago, with a degree, he really wanted to find and fund projects related to agriculture that would somehow cope with climate change.
But ten years ago, “agrotech” was not a special category, and it was problematic to present to potential investors the concept of an investment fund that Leclerc would manage with business partner Michael Dean, with whom Leclerc worked. previously worked. In agribusiness in West Africa for many years.
Leclerc says there were “a few AgTech-related companies” at the time that investors knew about. Think Climate Corp. and Impossible Foods, as well as smart car company Blue River. But Climate Corp has yet to sell it to Monsanto for $1 billion. Impossible Foods was not valued in the billions of dollars it is today. And Blue River was still a long way from selling John Deere for $305 million. Leclerc recalls, “The broader problem was storytelling.” “People didn’t care.”
Perhaps they gave up; Instead, he decided to start a content company called AgFunder News. “We thought if we could get people interested in food and… [agriculture]we may be able [raise a fund later]Leclerc says. It was also a smart bet. After publishing more than 4,000 articles on the site and attracting 90,000 subscribers to the site’s weekly newsletter, Leclerc says Eggfunder’s investment team, which includes Dean and two more recent additions, has made a capital commitment to the fund. reach $100 million. If things go well in the next few months.
This is a big step up from the previous funds that LeClerc and company started collecting a few years ago – mostly from newsletter readers. “First we raised $2.5 million for a friends and family fund,” he says, “and five months later we needed more money, so we raised $2 million, and six months later we raised $5 million.” Etc. It wasn’t the most traditional way to raise funds, but AgFunder had “a huge client base,” says Leclerc, “and ultimately the confidence that we know what we’re doing and can see companies through numerous conversations.” . have no other way.” It has become a structural advantage.”
The strategy is not unprecedented. Leclerc draws inspiration from gaming-updates founder Michael Arrington, who built a brand around entrepreneurship and then used the power of that brand to launch an investment career. Arrington, meanwhile, was preceded in his path by investor Jason Calacanis, who previously founded a media company, and more recent examples are beginning to emerge. Among them: London-based Harry Stebbings used his Twenty Minute VC podcast as a springboard into the corporate world last year, and Nick Milanovich, author of a two-year-old newspaper called This Week in Fintech, an investment syndicate. .launched. Fintech called in January. Fund.
However, no matter how deep their pockets are, mailing list subscribers don’t pour tens of millions of dollars into a team without first seeing some results, and Eggfunder already has something to brag about. Some of the 60 companies that have received checks from the team so far include autonomous tractor startup Bear Flag Robotics, which was sold to John Deere for $250 million last year; Root AI, a startup that developed an indoor harvesting robot and was acquired by AppHarvest last year for $60 million; and Greenlight Biosciences, an RNA research biotechnology company that went public last month through a merger with a special purpose acquisition company.
If you’re wondering how much of each of these companies the company owns, keep guessing. AgFunder, which typically writes checks for $500,000 as a starting point, but also writes checks for as little as $3 million, doesn’t think about ownership goals or the desire to own a specific stake in the company. Leclerc explains. Though his team has used specialized vehicles to maintain their proportions at several companies, including the still privately owned molecular coffee company Atmo Coffee. He says he “doesn’t get stuck in the lot. The question for me is: will this investment return the fund or the fund’s multiple? If you get bogged down in ownership, you may miss out on opportunities.”