David Friedberg, Founder and CEO of The Production Board
The production committee
David Friedberg is best known in Silicon Valley as one of the first Google executives who founded the agricultural insurance company Climate Corporation and sold it to Monsanto for $ 1 billion in 2013.
More recently, Friedberg has been nicknamed the Queen of Quinoa on the popular all-in podcast starring investors Jason Calacanis, Chamath Palihapitiya, and David Sacks. The lifelong vegetarian got the nickname when he bought the Canadian quinoa supplier NorQuin in 2014.
Friedberg remains CEO of NorQuin and CEO of Metromile, a software-based auto insurance provider he founded a decade ago and floated on the stock exchange earlier this year through a special acquisition company.
However, he spends most of his time on a project he started four years ago with the help of his old friend and Google co-founder, Larry Page.
After leaving Monsanto in 2015, Friedberg began speaking with Page about a way to build and fund a whole new group of startups focused on agricultural technology, sustainability, and advances in the life sciences. He didn’t want to return to Google, so Page agreed – through parent company Alphabet – to help fund a holding company that Friedberg would run.
Google CEO Larry Page holds a press release at Google’s New York headquarters on May 21, 2012. Google has announced that it will make 22,000 square feet of its New York headquarters available to CornellNYC Tech University free of charge for five years and six months or until the university completes its New York campus.
EMMANUEL DUNAND | AFP | Getty Images
Friedberg launched The Production Board in 2017. Now he reveals for the first time the commitment of Alphabet and Page.
The company Friedberg calls the Venture Foundry has just raised $ 300 million from Alphabet along with investors including Baillie Gifford, Allen & Co., BlackRock, Koch Disruptive Technologies, and Morgan Stanley’s Counterpoint Global.
While Page was the original sponsor of Alphabet, Friedberg said the Google co-founder had not been involved with the company in a while. Alphabet’s Anil Patel, who leads investments in the Other Betting segment, is on TPB’s board of directors.
TPB is an investment company, but not set up as a risk fund. That is, Alphabet and other outside investors own shares in the parent company but not in the portfolio companies. They only get liquidity if TPB goes public or is taken over.
“If one of our companies goes public or is sold, we do not take this capital and distribute it to our shareholders,” Friedberg said in an interview this week. “It stays on the balance sheet and we continue to build.”
There is no shortage of problems
Friedberg said neither he nor his investors need money, but they are all trying to find solutions to some of the planet’s greatest existential challenges. As climate disasters occur around the world and more and more parts of the world become uninhabitable, TPB invests in science and research to create new systems for nutrition, agriculture and health.
“At least for my life, I think that there will be no lack of problems and opportunities,” said the 41-year-old Friedberg. “When we have a liquidity event, we should be able to recycle that capital and use it for new work.”
Friedberg said TPB only has 15 employees, but its companies have hundreds of employees combined. His strategy is to hire top scientists, follow research trends for breakthroughs in genomics and life sciences, and then fund research and development to see if his team can create a marketable product.
When a business opportunity arises, TPB will outsource the company and provide it with a CEO, management team and laboratory space while continuing to provide centralized legal, human resources and financial services. Some of the companies have raised additional capital from other venture investors.
“They can focus on developing a product or fitting it to the product market, and over time we begin to move some of those operational functions off so they can work independently,” Friedberg said.
TPB’s existing investments include Soylent, the meal replacement beverage and nutrition company, and the Culture Biosciences bioreactor laboratory.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images
In a blog post on Friday announcing the new investment, Friedberg names five foundry companies that TPB founded and turned into businesses. These include Pattern Ag, which uses precision technology to help farmers make their land more productive; UR Labs, which makes a meal replacement shake to help people with diabetes lower their blood sugar; and Ohalo Genetics, a company that uses gene editing tools to grow plants that use less land and water.
TPB also founded Triplebar, a company that uses biotechnology to try to make food production, processing and packaging more sustainable. To run Triplebar, Friedberg worked with Jeremy Agresti, a scientist and former Harvard Fellow whose research was central to the development of 10x Genomics.
Friedberg said finding and recruiting talent is an important part of his job.
“I love science,” he said. “I enjoy finding great scientists and trying to convince them of this work, and I enjoy using my time well.”
In addition to hiring and raising capital, Friedberg also worked on a SPAC. In February, he filed a prospectus for a blank check company called TPB Acquisition, which aims to raise $ 250 million. He later reduced the target to $ 200 million.
The SPAC is looking for companies in the same markets that TPB is interested in. According to the notification, the transaction could even merge one of TPB’s businesses with another company.
“However, we will not enter into a first business combination with only TPB or a TPB portfolio company,” the filing states.
The SPAC has neither started trading nor announced a deal, and Friedberg said he couldn’t talk about it at the moment.
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