One of the most tangible effects of climate change might end up being the food we eat. “Climate change is making farmers less productive,” biochemist Jose Antonio de Cote Mesa told Refresh Miami. “So you have to find ways to make farms more productive and produce higher quality goods in the smallest amount of space possible.”
Improving agriculture is the name of the game for iQBiotech, the Miami-based company de Cote Mesa leads as President and Chief Science Officer. The Spaniard has spent the past 20 years – eight of which in South Florida – developing startups at the cutting edge of scientific research. That includes a venture that tested exotic birds’ gender to help inform what infectious diseases they might carry. (Yes, de Cote Mesa was doing PCR testing on pets before the pandemic made the tests ubiquitous for us human subjects.)
iQBiotech is a vertically integrated business that develops biostimulant and natural phytosanitary products. In layman’s terms, those products help plants grow and stay healthy. From their headquarters in the Cambridge Innovation Center, de Cote Mesa and his five-person team work to develop their agritech products.
Since launching in 2016, iQBiotech has raised a $2M seed round and been acquired by Shared-X, a Silicon Valley-based incubator and accelerator focused on impact farming companies. De Cote Mesa explained that this strong base of funding has enabled iQBiotech to kickstart its R&D and grow its footprint internationally, mostly through farms across Latin America.
Dr. Tony Salas, CEO of Shared-X, noted in a statement that iQBiotech stood out for its high quality research and strong potential customer base. “We see a great opportunity for crop protection that is as safe as a biological product but works as well as a chemical,” Salas said. Governments around the world are cracking down on agricultural products with harmful chemicals, yet de Cote Mesa argues that the market for alternatives is not yet fully developed.
“In agriculture, there hadn’t been much advanced science before,” he said. “Now there is. In general, people are now more aware of what they are consuming and how it was produced. Technology has arrived at the primary sector.”
For de Cote Mesa, collaborating with universities “is very important.” The technology underpinning iQBiotech’s platform is based on findings from a microbiology professor at Spain’s University of Salamanca. Closer to home, iQBiotech works directly with the University of Florida to develop their products. De Cote Mesa said he “always believed that universities should be the major engine of business.” He underscored the mutually-beneficial relationship between colleges and private organizations like iQBiotech in terms of knowledge and profit sharing.
There was a clear advantage to setting up shop in Miami, explained de Cote Mesa. “Miami is a large hub for Latin America,” he said. “It’s also a place where it is possible to raise money from a variety of investors.” The timing is ideal, according to de Cote Mesa: “There is a big opportunity here because not a lot of people are investing in biotechnology yet – and especially not biotech related to agriculture.”
More broadly, de Cote Mesa is bullish on Florida’s future as a major agricultural hub in the US: “Florida very soon will become a state with a lot of agricultural prowess.” In his estimations, Florida’s agricultural output could overtake California’s because of the latter state’s struggle with wildfires and a lack of water, as well as our state’s favorable tax climate.
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