While other emerging companies traveled from California, Kentucky or Missouri, PowerPollen just made a quick trip across town to join the two-day Partnering for Growth biotechnology showcase, hosted by IowaBio.
Through three years of research, PowerPollen had already outgrown two locations in Des Moines and Urbandale before setting down roots in Ankeny in April 2017. The startup is expanding operations and staff again this year – doubling facility square footage, expecting an expanded part-time staff this summer, and two more full-time positions to be added.
“We started talking with the city of Ankeny and realizing that they’re very business-friendly,” CTO Jason Cope said.
The cross-pollination startup allows farmers to introduce new genetic traits to crops during pollination, rather than when purchasing the seed months before spring planting, Cope said. The startup’s scope is currently limited to corn, but Cope said there were promises implications for the technology in wheat and rice markets in the future.
“The best way to describe it is to put yourself in the shoes of a farmer, and have to guess, ‘did I guess well in the winter of what I would need to plant by now?’” Cope said.
“You can bring in what the farmer needs on demand … You can save the farmer’s field from being chewed up by worms. Same with drought, same with ethanol – a lot of the environment issues you can think of, it would be a rescue for.”
PowerPollen also brings benefits of genetic diversity to crops: a field that is self-pollinating can lose between 5 to 15 percent of yields, while bringing in another source of pollen can increase yields up to 20 percent, Cope said.
PowerPollen is applied using attachments to machinery that most farmers are already using, and the startup will launch a study on pollen drift this summer.
“Pollen drift is a concern especially when there’s trans genes in that pollen, and research companies don’t want that trans gene to end up where it doesn’t belong,” Cope said. “With our technology, it’s all sprayed within about seven inches. We’ll see how well we are able to control that drift.”