Tech behind better food | Organ regeneration | Augmented reality
“What gets measured, gets managed." — Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author
January 14, 2021
CHAT WITH AN INNOVATOR
Making better food in St. Louis
Image courtesy Benson Hill
Founded in 2012, Benson Hill is a company at the intersection of data science, genomics, plant biology, and food science. They employ a proprietary technology platform called CropOS™ to make food ingredients that are more sustainable, more nutritious, and better tasting. CropOS™ accelerates breeding by enabling greater precision and fewer breeding cycles. It’s like GPS for plant scientists, and breeders.
The company is housed in a new 160,000 sq. ft.-building on the campus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri, where the company was founded. In 2020, Benson Hill welcomed Jason Bull as Chief Technology Officer.
Flyover Future spoke with Jason Bull to better understand how technology is improving the food system with healthier food options. Bull leads the company’s combined R&D and Data Science capabilities across predictive breeding, genomics, product discovery, big data engineering, and software development.
Benson Hill is located in St. Louis. What are some of the advantages of being there?
Jason Bull: St. Louis is ideal for us for a few different reasons. If you look at the agribusiness contribution to the local St. Louis economy it's about $43 million dollars and about a 160,000 jobs. Also, 50 percent of U.S. crop production is within 500 miles of the St. Louis. We’re right in the heart of agricultural productivity.
Do you draw talent from nearby colleges?
Universities, particularly in the Midwest and in St. Louis itself, are a great source of talent for us. The 39 North ecosystem where we exist has the highest collection of plant science PhDs in the world. We also attract a lot of people outside of St. Louis — especially on the data science side. People working for the big tech companies who want to work on something that has a profound effect.
You know, if you look at machine learning and artificial intelligence, which is part of our big data science push, and you think about where most of the top talent in that area ends up working, it's mostly around driving clicks for ads in the big tech companies. Compare that with improving the food system.
"Universities, particularly in the Midwest and in St. Louis itself, are a great source of talent for us. The 39 North ecosystem where we exist has the highest collection of plant science PhDs in the world."
— Jason Bull, Benson Hill
In October, Benson Hill announced the close of a $150 million Series D funding round. What does this mean for the company?
Jason Bull: That’s a great question. So what we see is that there's this disconnect between consumers’ demand for better food and the current offerings of the agri-food companies. And so we're specifically focused on using the funds in three areas to really drive that solution set: scaling in our commercial operations, partner development, and driving the innovation engine of CropOS™.
We're also doubling down on more typical product development activities around our breeding pipeline and gene editing pipeline. So yeah, we're pushing ahead on all cylinders.
And, of course, we would not be having this conversation now if Dr. William Danforth hadn’t used his influence and wealth to realize his vision of what's become the Danforth Plant Science Center.
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Flyover Future launched its inaugural Innovators Podcast with Microsoft's Future of Work Initiative in Louisville. Each episode shares stories from experts at the forefront of data and artificial intelligence. Listen to gain valuable insight and inspiration for your own data strategy. Here are episodes that cover data and AI innovation related to healthcare. Your next big idea is one podcast episode away!
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