Brightseed raises $68M to accelerate artificial intelligence work

Dive Brief:

  • Brightseed, a five-year-old upstart that uses artificial intelligence to find molecules in plants that could have the biggest health and nutrition benefits in humans, raised $68 million in funding led by food technology investor Temasek.
  • The new funding will enable Brightseed to advance natural compound discovery and clinical validation, and launch the company’s first FDA-GRAS ingredient from a new commercialization center in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Companies are turning to artificial intelligence as they look to accelerate product development and uncover new ingredients for products amid growing demand from shoppers.

Dive Insight:

As consumers look for functional attributes in the foods and beverages they eat and drink, companies like Brightseed are among the businesses starting to benefit.

“Consumers are increasingly looking for natural and accessible solutions to restore their health, but industry has been severely limited by a lack of tools and technologies to look more deeply into nature’s potential to do that,” Sofia Elizondo, co-founder and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

Brightseed is the creator of the Forager artificial intelligence, which maps and predicts the health impact of plant-based compounds. It has already partnered with companies such as Danone, Ocean Spray and OFI to get a deeper understanding of plants and their health benefits to drive future product innovation.

Danone, which expanded its one-year-old partnership with Brightseed in 2021, is harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to unlock hidden nutrients in popular ingredients such as the soybean. The companies have been identifying biological connections between bioactives present in Danone’s raw plant sources and health. As of last August, Forager was able to find 10 times more bioactives in a single plant than was previously known, and seven new health attributes, according to a press release on the announcement. 

OFI has partnered with biosciences data firm Brightseed to explore which of its U.S. garlic and global black pepper varieties contain the highest levels of bioactive phytochemicals and connect them to specific health benefits.

In addition to these partnerships, Brightseed’s first discovery — two bioactive compounds identified in upcycled hemp hulls — will launch later this year as a FDA GRAS whole-food ingredient for gut health. The new facility in North Carolina will focus on the company’s ingredient business. With this funding, Brightseed also plans to expand into new areas of the natural world, including fungi and microbes. 

Just three years ago, Brightseed raised $27 million to scale-up its artificial intelligence platform to bring its first phytonutrient to market and fund research for partnerships. At the time, co-founder and CEO Jim Flatt said Brightseed had seen increased demand for its business during the COVID-19 outbreak as consumers looked to eat healthier and businesses searched for ways to quickly and more efficiently meet those needs.

“All companies are impatient and want to meet these unmet consumer needs and so, for sure, we honestly have more interest than we can handle as a development-stage company,” he said.

So far, Forager has mapped more than two million plant compounds — 20 times more than existing scientific literature — and dozens are in various stages of validation across multiple health territories, including metabolic health, digestive health, cognitive health, sugar management, maternal health and immunity.

The cash from the latest round of fundraising, nearly triple its earlier raise, will play a major role in helping Brightseed advance more of its discoveries from the lab to the shelf.

Brightseed is among a growing number of companies in the food and beverage space using artificial intelligence to accelerate development and uncover products that otherwise would have been impossible or have been cost-prohibitive. Mars, McCormick & Co. and Conagra Brands are just a few of the other companies turning to the technology.

The ability of Brightseed to uncover value-added ingredients, while providing a catalyst to the work companies like Danone are doing in the trendy plant-based space, could give these CPGs an instant advantage to woo shoppers and differentiate themselves from their competitors. The environment is likely to drive further business to Brightseed as food and beverage companies grapple for an advantage in the marketplace.