Brightseed raises $27 million for phytonutrient identification tech used in food and nutraceuticals

Brightseed, the company launched by former Hampton Creek head of research and development, Jim Flatt, to identify the presence of specific nutrients in plants that are believed to boost human health, has raised $27 million in its latest round of funding, the company said.

Brightseed will use the financing, in part, to complete clinical studies to prove out the benefits of phytonutrients and the claims that the company and its partners are looking to make.

The company’s first product is a phytonutrient compound believed to be beneficial to metabolic health and a way to manage and treat fatty liver disease.

Using the company’s machine learning platform called “Forager,” Brightseed can identify the presence of phytonutrients in species of plants. Those plants can then be cultivated or their compounds manufactured to produce ingredients for consumer foods.

It’s a variation on the thesis Flatt developed at Hampton Creek. There the idea was to use machine learning to identify combinations of plant proteins that could be used to make protein replacement products for traditional animal-derived foods. 

Instead of looking at protein replacements broadly, Flatt has shifted the focus at Brightseed to concentrate on human health and functional ingredients — chiefly these phytonutrients. “The strength and the power of nutrition is to make modest changes over a long period of time that have important health benefits,” said Flatt in an interview. 

To make his case, Flatt pointed to a study from Geisinger that followed pre-diabetic patients and showed how their conditions could be controlled and improved by concentrating on their metabolic health.

“With patients that spent $200 on whole foods… they saw a 40 percent reduction in their A1c levels [and] that’s more than double what the existing class drugs can achieve,” said Flatt. “From an economic perspective they reduced their cost of healthcare by 80% thanks to lower hospitalizations and insulin use.”

Brightseed intends to bring its own ingredient discoveries to market itself but will work with partners using the Forager system to collaborate on new ingredient discoveries that can be shared with producers, Flatt said.

The dual path to market is likely one of the reasons why Brightseed was able to raise new capital from Lewis & Clark AgriFood and previous investors, including Seed 2 Growth Ventures, Horizons Ventures, CGC Ventures, Fifty Years, Germin8 and AgFunder. 

“This capital raise is going to really allow us to really accelerate that exploration of the dark matter of nutrition. All of these phytonutrients that we know exist,” said Flatt. “This forager AI platform that we’ve built… we’ve developed a proprietary library that’s about 5 times what the world knows [and] one of the powers of Forager is as we do find known or new compounds we’re able to predict their utility with respect to health.”

The company already has one major partnership in place with Danone North America, which it announced earlier this year.

“As a leader in plant-based food and beverages, Danone North America values external partnerships that can help us improve and optimize the taste, texture and nutritional aspects of our products, and contribute to our biodiversity vision,” said Takoua Debeche, SVP Research & Innovation at Danone North America, in a statement at the time. 

Forager’s nutrient identification technology also has implications far beyond ingredient science, said Flatt.

“What forager can do is really help create what we’ll call a virtuous cycle to incentivize adoption of a more biodiverse food supply chain and to move towards more regenerative agricultural practices and we do this by revealing the hidden qualities or benefits of some of these lesser known crops and highlighting why they can be of greater value and tell a story,” he said.  

For instance, Brightseed is already partnering with a company to evaluate an underutilized superfruit and work on improving and boosting its cultivation.

“There’s some albeit limited data that shows that agricultural practices can influence these phytonutrient contents. What Forager does is help valorize those phyotnutrients and creates a story that helps drive consumer adoption and demand for more restorative products that are produced with more regenerative agricultural practices that lead to more nutrients in crops,” Flatt said. 

Although the company’s revenues are currently hovering under $10 million, Flatt and his investors expect that to change rapidly.

“Brightseed’s application of technology is transforming how we understand the resources available for our health and well-being in nature,” said Dr. David Russell, operating partner at Lewis & Clark AgriFood, in a statement. “These discoveries already have a major impact on ingredient selection and how we’re formulating the things we consume every day. This is a new approach that provides a much deeper understanding of the biological connections between plants and people. We’re looking forward to supporting Brightseed in leading these breakthroughs.”

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