Syngenta is looking for a few good disruptors


Corey Huck wants to be a disruptor. And to do it, he’s looking for disruptive startups, starting in Research Triangle Park.

Huck, the new RTP head of Syngenta Ventures, the venture arm of the Swiss agtech giant, is looking for the next big technology – something prime to solve the growing hunger crisis, a solution to make farmers across the globe thrive, the next big application for gene editing.

It’s all on the table, he says.

“And we’re also looking for things that we know we don’t know about,” he says.

Syngenta is a huge global company, with a massive research operation in RTP. And while a company that large can innovate, it’s in no way as nimble as the startups coming out of area universities. So to compete with other disuptors, Syngenta is constantly eyeing what innovators are doing in their labs – particularly in its own sweet spot areas such as seeds. That’s where Huck and his team come in – eyeing not just the Triangle, but the globe, and doing it from RTP.

Huck characterizes it as both defensive and offensive for Syngenta.

“When we see very early stage technologies coming out of universities… let’s go out and understand, let’s really dive in at a much earlier stage in that technology and make an investment,” he says. And those investments can lead to partnerships – and even acquisitions.

Huck says the time is particularly ripe for opportunity. Consolidation in the last few years has created entrepreneurs with decades of experience.

And RDU’s nonstop flight frequency makes it easy to check out innovators in Boston and New York, too, he says. And that makes RTP the ideal place for Syngenta to base the unit.

Syngenta, like other venture initiatives popping up, is also trying to attract some of that outside innovation to RTP. Huck predicts success, citing the region’s low cost of living.

Syngenta’s venture arm may be moving to the new Alexandria Center for AgTech at RTP, which already houses the AgTech Accelerator (which was founded with funds from an investor syndicate that included Syngenta). And that’s a big deal for the startups it’s creating in the Accelerator, says its head, John Dombrosky.

“To have that placed within our facility at 5 Laboratory Drive, here in the Triangle region, it’s just going to be a fantastic synergy for both sides,” he says.

The Syngenta Ventures portfolio currently includes 24 companies.

Syngenta Ventures, founded in 2009, typically invests in early-stage companies working both in areas such as gene editing and breeding technologies, as well as digital innovation, such as farm management systems and aerial imagery.

Huck, former head of U.S. commercial operations, wears two hats today at Syngenta – global head of its biologicals division as well as the leader Syngenta’s global ventures business. The biologicals unit is a new business within Syngenta – being formed at RTP with about 10 employees stationed here initially.

And it is moving into the new Alexandria Center for AgTech.