NexSteppe raises $16 million in second round of funding

By Erin Voegele | December 23, 2011

California-based feedstock development company NexSteppe recently announced it has raised $16 million in its second round of funding. The new round of funding was led by Braemer Energy Ventures. Previous investors also participated in the funding round, including CYM Ventures and Zygote Ventures. The company also announced that Dennis Costello, a partner at Braemer, has joined its Board of Directors.

According to NexSteppe CEO Anna Rath, her company began operations about a year ago. “The idea behind NexSteppe was to create a company that was solely focused on the development of dedicated energy crops for biofuels, biopower and biobased products,” she said. While large seed companies are largely focused on major row crops, and agricultural biotech companies are often focused on the development of core technologies, Rath said that there haven’t been many companies focused specifically on developing feedstock solutions for the biorefining and biopower industries. She developed NexSteppe to fill that void in the marketplace.

The company currently has two crop platforms, one sugar and one cellulosic platform. As part of the sugar platform, NexSteppe is developed a sweet sorghum variety that Rath said could be used as a substitute for sugarcane feedstock in Brazil, or as source of sugar for fermentation-based biorefineries in the U.S. Regarding the cellulosic platform, NexSteppe is developing biomass sorghum and switchgrass varieties.

While Rath noted that she cannot currently disclose when her company expects to reach commercial production of seeds, she was able to share background information on NexSteppe’s breeding process. Jerry O’Rear, the company’s vice president of breeding, has been working with sweet sorghum for more than two decades, Rath said. To begin the company’s breeding program, she said that O’Rear worked to bring together the most diverse set of sorghum and switchgrass varieties possible. Rath also noted that the company has been able to successfully bring together her knowledge of the needs and requirements that downstream customers have for feedstock, along with O’Rear’s knowledge of crop breeding and his familiarity with sorghum.

“We have long believed that feedstock is a critical component in the value chains for biofuels and biobased products,” said Costello. “We view NexSteppe's strategy of focusing on dedicated crops produced from seed, some of which can offer drop-in solutions in existing value chains, as a winning one. The combination of the management team's experience and focus makes the company attractive. We are excited about the prospects for growth in this sector and are pleased to be on this path with NexSteppe.”