E Green Global wants more people to eat potatoes

  • Biotech startup has raised funds from ADB Ventures, KDB, among others
  • Lab-grown potatoes can help increase global nutrition and food security

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The team at E Green Global, a biotech startup based in Seoulwants to make it easier for the world to grow potatoes.

High-quality potatoes can provide an affordable source of nutrition while improving food security. Large-scale commercial production, however, is limited to a few countries today.

Richer nations benefit by using higher-yield seeds, which are more resistant to viruses and pests. 

Almost all the seed potatoes in Europe and North America are disease-free, for example. Less than 10% meet the same standard in emerging markets across Africa and much of Asia.

At the same time, most potatoes are eaten close to where they are harvested, limiting their role in global diets.

Traditional seed potatoes – a special batch used to start (or ‘seed’) a new crop – face extra hurdles when crossing borders, as they are produced in soil that is often subject to quarantine and strict import rules. 

Potatoes also contain more water than other staples, so they don’t last as long as maize, wheat or rice, and are harder to store.

Relevant Sustainable Development Goals

E Green Global’s approach bypasses many of these obstacles, making potatoes more accessible worldwide.

The startup mass-produces seed potatoes in a sterilized lab, rather than in greenhouses and open fields – the usual method – using moss rather than soil to nurture them.

E Green Global’s seed potatoes are much smaller too – the size of a bean  – and less resource-intensive as a result.

These tiny potatoes, known as microtubers, were first discovered half a century ago. 

E Green Global is the first company worldwide to commercialize them, by making microtubers strong enough to survive when transplanted into open fields. 

In the future, E Green Global wants to apply its learnings to other major crops, including sweet potatoes, cassava, onion and garlic.

The company, which was founded in 2009, has raised around US$40 million from investors so far. A Series C bridging round in June was supported by the Korea Development Bank and ADB Ventures.

What difference will new investment make?

One key priority is stepping up revenue in core markets such as the People’s Republic of China and North America. 

E Green Global started commercializing its technology in 2018, and already counts major processors and producers among its customers. 

At the same time, the company is also looking to expand into countries that have relied on low-quality seed potatoes so far.

“The number one challenge with doing business in the potato industry is that entering a new market takes a long time,” explains E Green Global’s founder & CEO, Keejoon Shin. 

“Seeking the right partners, growing region, varieties, customers and capital easily takes more than three years, just for preparation,” he adds. 

“We believe ADB’s strong presence in target countries will shorten this preparation time dramatically.”

E Green Global is setting up a plant factory in the Netherlands, as part of expansion plans for the EU, Middle East and Africa.

The company is also looking to establish a presence in Central Asia and Russia, India, Latin America and Oceania.

‘In the potato industry, entering a new market takes a long time’ – Keejoon Shin, E Green Global

“Conventional technologies require time and capital for greenhouses that are limited in production capability,” Shin says.

“We can simply set up our lab facilities anywhere in the world and increase capacity more easily.”

E Green Global’s founder wants to create robust microtubers that can grow in different conditions, including in harsh environments, while bringing down costs to expand the customer base.

Fresh funds can help the startup scale up, by automating more production processes while testing more potato varieties.

E Green Global’s microtubers can also speed up the seeding process, making it easier to start growing potatoes.

New varieties need to be replanted multiple times before commercial production. This normally takes between five to seven years, slowing down innovation.

E Green Global’s microtubers can already start a new crop within one to two years. The ultimate goal is to skip this replanting stage entirely, so farmers can start growing potatoes straightaway.

“We are engaged with several players to set up a local seed production value chain for fast delivery of mass quantities of clean seed,” Shin says.

“Also, EU farmers need to reduce chemical usage up to 50% by 2030,” he adds. “Our short multiplication cycle can help European farmers achieve this goal.”

A scientific breakthrough for growing potatoes… Inside E Green Global’s lab
Why is E Green Global worth backing?

Potatoes are the world’s fourth-largest food resource, after maize, wheat and rice. 

This US$144 billion global growth market offers plenty of opportunities for disruption, notes Minsoo Kim, investment specialist with ADB Ventures, one of E Green Global’s main backers.

“The potato market is a huge market, but there are major issues in the value chain that prevent the crops from being produced and cultivated more efficiently,” he says. 

“We liked what E Green Global was doing to solve the problems in the potato industry, and we were impressed with the product. It’s the first successful commercialization of mass-produced microtubers.”

E Green Global’s microtubers also cut down on resources used in traditional production, such as water and fertilizer, supporting ADB Ventures’ sustainability mandate.

E Green Global is targeting more than 6 million tons of disease-free potatoes by 2025, eliminating the equivalent of 1.8 million tons of carbon dioxide from production and transport.  

E Green Global also has a strong team behind it, Kim notes, together with a headstart over potential competitors, having piloted its propagation methods with major industry players.

“This is a very large and unexplored opportunity.”

Meanwhile, population growth is pushing up food demand in many parts of the world, especially for basic staples. 

At the same time, potato breeders and processors need to keep up with changing tastes and preferences in richer countries too.

A new way to grow potatoes promises to accelerate the development of an already vibrant market.

“We think this is a very large and new unexplored opportunity,” Kim says. “We see E Green Global having a significant advantage and moat.”

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Keejoon Shin

CEO, E Green Global

Minsoo Kim

Investment Specialist, ADB Ventures

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