Strategy Session is a feature for Crunchbase News where we ask venture capital firms five questions about their investment strategies.
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St. Louis-based venture capital firm Lagomaj Capital announced in February that it was going to do something unique — build a plant science research and development facility with its portfolio company, Benson Hill.
When I interviewed Lagomaj founder and Managing Director Felix Williams, he told me that Benson Hill, a provider of a crop design platform to develop healthier and more sustainable food and ingredients, will use the Crop Accelerator to experiment and study plants with the goal of creating a more equitable food system.
Lagomaj, founded in 2017, raised a fund — which Williams described as an evergreen structure — and has made more than 30 investments. It is also opening an office in Austin.
I spoke to Williams about Lagomaj’s decision to join Benson Hill on this endeavour. The following conversation was lightly edited for clarity and length.
What kinds of companies do you like to invest in?
Williams: We are primarily early stage, investing in agriculture tech, deep tech and a little biotech. We are doing most deals being between the coasts, and we come in around Series A. I’m in St. Louis, and prior to starting Lagomaj, I realized that revolutionary businesses need resources. I saw companies leave St. Louis for the coasts, so I started Lagomaj to be the one to do this.
How do you like to work with founders?
Williams: We want to truly align with the company and do more than just buy stock. We work to open doors, provide council and participate on boards. We’ve even been a part of joint ventures, loans and other transactions. Our project research is a fantastic example of being a partner that goes beyond buying shares. Problems are puzzles, and we like to solve them and offer capital to speed up the solutions, but we won’t just be that passive guy on the couch.
You are building a plant science research and development facility with your portfolio company, Benson Hill. How unique is this kind of project for a venture capital firm?
Williams: Hugely unique. I have not heard of a venture capital partnering with a portfolio company to build an R&D facility. It is exciting. It is the physical manifestation of making a commitment to our founders.
In addition to the investment, what kind of role will you play in this facility?
Williams: We are going to be long-term partners in that 39 North ecosystem. This block is clustering agtech and biotech, all who are working for advancement of those industries. The environment is truly unique. They are advancing in the area, and we hope this is just the start and there will be more projects that come down the line.
Though it’s still early in this process, is this the kind of investment you would like to continue to make?
Williams: We are primarily a venture firm, and we want to continue to be a VC, but we want to ensure we can be the best long-term partner, so we are open to doing it again. However, it must make sense for both of us. While we don’t intend to be a commercial real estate developer, we want to make sure people we work with, and for, have an edge.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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