by Tim Keller
I have found it quite interesting to watch the debate over Measure H unfold, and watch as each side has rolled out various arguments.
While both sides have a collection of more and less solid arguments, there is one element of the issue that I have seen being discussed which really shouldn’t be up for debate: The question of demand.
As I have watched, I have seen voters call into question a number of things: Whether the companies that set up at Disc are actually going to be food / agtech / renewables (aka “sustainability”) kinds of companies, whether there is sufficient demand to warrant such a development, and some commenters have gone so far as to openly question whether there are any innovative / startup companies in our town in the first place.
Now, I believe that a degree of skepticism is a healthy thing in most elections. We shouldn’t take any campaign’s word at face value without engaging our brains, and I understand that “sustainability” and “innovation” are both buzz-words which have been overused in the past.
But to me, the evidence for all of the above is as plain as the nose on my face. But I do admit, I have something of a unique perspective: As the volunteer director of a business incubator here in town, I end up meeting with quite a number of the players in our entrepreneurial ecosystem, and If I don’t meet them directly, the “grapevine” for local entrepreneurship runs straight through my door… so I at least hear about most of them.
So I thought it might be useful to put the “demand” component of the current debate to bed by simply taking an inventory of the activity in this sector: past, present and future.
When you see this list, I hope that you will internalize it, I hope you will learn a little more about these companies and what they are doing and appreciate the impact that their success might have on the world. I hope you will be able to see the city of Davis the way that I do: As the epicenter of a number of industries which are not only of incredible value to our local economy, but which are absolutely vital to the success of our species.
So to that end, let me present you with the following series of lists of companies that have either started here, or come here, or tried to come here but couldn’t because they couldn’t find space… as well as a list of the next wave of startup companies that are currently in local business incubators.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please forgive any omissions, but I daresay that it should be sufficient to make the point.
Given the importance of these companies, and the economic benefits that having these companies in our town will bring, I hope you will understand as I do, how vitally important it is that we pass measure H.
Homegrown Hall of fame:
Arcadia Biosciences. Company started locally, involved in a wide range of products including enhanced varieties of wheat, and pain relief products. Raised over $160M went public on Nasdaq: RKDA
AgraQuest,- Bio-based crop protection products. Using microbes to do the jobs that farmers used to rely on chemical pesticides for. Started here, purchased by Bayer Crop Sciences for ~$500M
CalGene – Started in a garage in Davis developing GMO plant varieties, including the famous “flavor saver” tomato sold to Monsanto at a valuation of ~$520 Million
Marrone Organics – Started by founder of AgraQuest Pam Marrone. Multiple commercial organic crop protection products Went public on Nasdaq: MBII
Resonetics: Automated lean manufacturing of laser-cut medical devices. Davis-founded Aduro laser merged with Resonetics at an undisclosed valuation. Still manufacturing in Davis.
Expression Systems: Contract manufacturing of therapeutic and diagnostic proteins.
World-Class Companies that Came to Davis looking for World-Class Talent
DMG Mori: A global leader in automated manufacturing technology listed on Tokyo stock exchange. Came to Davis due to a design partnership with a UCD Professor.
Mars / Wrigley: Food / Candy giant has multiple partnerships and investments in on-campus research, also has labs in town for similar work.
Novozymes: A global biotechnology company headquartered in Denmark with products across a wide spectrum including food, agriculture and renewables. Has a major R&D center in south Davis.
Archer Daniels Midland ( ADM): American food giant ADM set up an enzymes laboratory in Davis in 2018 to collaborate with UC Davis researchers.
BASF: A giant company with products across the chemical spectrum set up a lab in Davis to work on seed and agricultural products.
Green Venus. Intrexon a wide-ranging company with products in very diverse fields from medicine to mosquito control, spun off its local operations into a company called Green Venus which is using “speed breeding” technology to develop new varieties of multiple crops.
Local up and coming technology companies:
Advanced Farm Robotic harvesting machines for automated picking of Strawberries and Apples. Raised $34 Million from major agricultural investors including Yamaha and Kubota
BioConsortia – Started by alumni of Agraquest –similar biopesticide products Has raised $37 Million.
Engage3. The only software company on this list! Engage3 works with online retailers to understand their pricing strategy and optimize their ability to compete. Has raised almost $60 Million in equity funding.
Sierra Energy. Renewable energy company which converts municipal waste and renewable feedstocks to hydrogen. Raised $33 Million.
Evolve Biosystems. Nutrition company providing gut microbiome products for infants. Has raised over $125 million.
Eicosis. Has developed a non-opioid pain medicine which is currently in human clinical trials has raised over $20M between grant and equity investments.
Joywell. developed protein-based sweeteners which allow sweetness without sugar and is marketing a number of novel products using their technology, has raised almost $7 million.
Innerplant Uses plants as living sensors to detect environmental stresses in commercial agriculture. Recently raised $6 million.
Companies we missed out on.
These are companies that were Davis-founded or who came to Davis looking for space because they wanted to hire Davis talent – only to set up shop elsewhere because they couldn’t find appropriate space. This list is probably the most incomplete of the set, because if they came here to town and didn’t end up meeting with me, I might not have known. If you know other examples in this or other categories, let me know.
Some of these companies we may be lost forever, but others might very well be willing to move back to Davis if adequate facilities were available.
Re-Purpose Energy – Davis founded company who are converting end-of-life electric car batteries into home electrical storage systems. Ended up in Vacaville.
BiomeMakers – A soil health monitoring and health company founded in San Francisco, tried to find space here, and ended up in West Sacramento.
Origin Materials – A Davis-grown company creating renewable plastics from biomass feedstocks. Set up shop in West Sacramento after failing to find a place here ( twice ) went public recently on the Nasdaq: ORGN
Digestiva Commercializing UC Davis originated research on proteins which help with digestibility. Digestiva moved to lab space in west Sacramento after not being able to find lab space here in Davis ( we DO hope to get this one back).
BCD Biosciences. BCD is another company from the founders of Evolve Bio, working on oligosaccharides which can be used as therapies and for enhancing digestive health.
TurtleTree: Well funded startup creating a variety of future food products. Their team is highly Davis-based, but they ended up only finding lab space in Woodland and are building a production facility in West Sacramento.
Molecular Matrix – Developed a novel surgical bone graft material and their own rapid Covid-19 Tests. Moved to west Sacramento when forced out of their west Davis location.
TacSense – Wearable sensor technology spun out of UC Davis. Set up shop in Woodland and now also has operations in Shenzhen, China.
Up-And-Coming Companies we need to hold onto:
These startups are currently in Davis doing initial R&D work.
Ariz Bio: Highly targeted cancer therapeutics using multiple techniques to get the right treatment to the right place in the body.
Landscan: Agricultural informatics company that helps farmers understand their fields and make better water management and other decisions.
FloraPulse: Tree or vine-mounted sensors that directly measure plant water stress, allowing farmers to conserve water by giving their crop exactly what it needs. ( and no more ).
Balletic Foods: Company developing efficient ways of creating muscle proteins for food supplements.
Bindkin Bio: Drug discovery platform technology helping to identify the next generation of pharmaceutical compounds.
Peak B: Developing a organically-derived blue food coloring ( existing blue food dyes are chemically derived and problematic ).
SensIT: Gas-Sensor technology that can detect a variety of compounds. First applications are in the egg-handling ( poultry ) sector as well as the early detection of fungal spoilage in food storage silos.
Optimized Foods: cellular agriculture company leveraging mycelium manufacturing to create foods that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.
On-Site Technologies: Robotic inspection systems for utility-scale solar installations. ( coming here soon).
Matribuials: Developing milk-derived therapeutics for the treatment of infectious disease.
Ravata: Developing tools for analysis of embryos in research, livestock and Human IVF applications.
AmCyt: Medical robotics company enabling telemedicine for cancer biopsies. (this one is mine).
ParaMag: Developing novel therapeutics and diagnostics for Alzheimer’s and other diseases.
California Cultured: Company innovating cell-cultured chocolate production, helping eliminate West African deforestation and child slavery. Recently raised $4 Million.
NuCicer: A company developing chickpeas that have 75% higher protein content.
Pheronym: A company developing pheromone based products for the control of nematodes.
Sensei Ag: A company backed by Oracle CEO Larry Ellison developing crop varieties that are well suited to indoor vertical agriculture.
There are also a number of UC-Davis originated startups that are currently at lab incubators in nearby towns. These are companies that would most likely love to come BACK to Davis if they could find the space.
Startups in the lab @ Agstart: (list of companies included).
The Bayer Co-Laborator (website does not mention companies that are there).
Summary: I hope this list has impressed you. These companies might not be obvious when you walk around town going about one’s daily business, but once you realize they are here, I think you cant help but start to understand just how special Davis is.
I also hope that you come away from this list of companies understanding that Innovation and Sustainability are NOT just marketing phrases. There is no denying that Sustainability, Food and Agtech are the undeniable theme that runs through these lists.
Finally, I hope these lists help you understand the utter falsehood of the No campaign’s final argument: That a project like this is simply “way too large for a small college town like Davis.”
Davis is NOT a small college town. We are home of the #5 best-funded public research university and the #1 agricultural school in the world. Amongst our peers are Berkeley, Stanford, the University of Michigan and MIT – and all of those institutions have substantial innovation centers dedicated to the translation of that research into the private economy.
This is the truth of why Davis absolutely must pass DiSC, and why I am sad that DiSC returned to the ballot at only half-size. Not only have we been holding back the potential of our University, but we have also been hurting ourselves.
As I have said many times that when it comes to economic development: “Davis is sitting on a winning lottery ticket… we just haven’t summoned the political will yet to cash it in.”
Please join me in making a local home for these incredible companies, created by Davis scientists, run by Davis residents, for the benefit of us as a city, and for the good of our species as a whole…. By voting “yes” on Measure H.
Tim Keller lives in Davis and founded the incubator Inventopia.