David Friedberg, Founder and CEO of The Production Board
The production board
David Friedberg is 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.
Most recently, Friedberg has earned the nickname Queen of Quinoa on the popular All-In podcast with investors Jason Calacanis, Chamath Palihapitiya, and David Sacks. The lifelong vegetarian earned the nickname when he purchased Canadian quinoa supplier NorQuin in 2014.
Friedberg remains chairman of the board of NorQuin and is chairman of Metromile, a software-powered auto insurance provider that started a decade ago and went public through a special-purpose acquisition company earlier this year.
But he spends most of his time on a project that started four years ago with the help of an old friend and Google co-founder, Larry Page.
After leaving Monsanto in 2015, Friedberg began talking to Page about a way to build and fund an entirely new group of startups focused on agricultural technology, sustainability, and advancements in the life sciences. He didn’t want to go back to Google, so Page, through parent company Alphabet, agreed to help fund a holding company that Friedberg would operate.
Google CEO Larry Page holds a press announcement at Google headquarters in New York on May 21, 2012. Google announced that it will allocate 22,000 square feet of its New York headquarters to CornellNYC Technological University, without tenure for five years and six months or until college completes its campus in New York.
EMMANUEL DUNAND | AFP | fake images
Friedberg launched The Production Board in 2017. He is now revealing Alphabet and Page involvement for the first time.
The company, which Friedberg describes as a venture foundry, 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 Alphabet’s initial sponsor, Friedberg said the Google co-founder hasn’t been involved with the company in a while. Alphabet’s Anil Patel, who leads investments for the Other Bets segment, is on the board of TPB.
TPB is an investment company, but it is not constituted as a venture fund. That means Alphabet and other outside investors own shares in the parent entity, but not in the portfolio companies. They only get liquidity if TPB is publicly traded or acquired.
“If one of our companies goes public or is sold, we don’t take that capital and distribute it to our shareholders,” Friedberg said in an interview this week. “It remains in balance and we continue to build.”
There is no shortage of problems
Friedberg said that neither he nor his investors need money, but that they are all trying to find solutions to some of the planet’s gravest existential challenges. With climate disasters emerging around the world and more parts of the world becoming uninhabitable, TPB is investing in science and research to create new systems for food, agriculture and health.
“For my life at least, I don’t think there will be a shortage of problems and opportunities to pursue,” said Friedberg, 41. “If we have a cash flow event, we should be able to recycle that capital and use it for new jobs.”
Friedberg said TPB has only 15 employees, but its companies have hundreds of workers combined. His strategy is to hire the best scientists, follow research trends for advances in genomics and life sciences, and then fund R&D to determine if his team can develop a marketable product.
If there is a business opportunity, TPB will expand the company and give it a CEO, a management team and a lab space, while continuing to offer centralized services for the legal, human resources and finance areas. Some of the companies have raised additional capital from other venture capitalists.
“They can focus on building a product or adjusting the product to market and then over time, as they mature, we start to give up some of those operational functions so they can operate independently,” Friedberg said.
TPB’s existing investments include Soylent, the meal replacement nutrition and beverage company, and the Culture Biosciences bioreactor laboratory.
Josh Edelson | AFP | fake images
In a blog post on Friday announcing the new investment, Friedberg mentions five foundry companies that TPB launched and turned into businesses. They include Pattern Ag, which uses precision engineering 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 direct Triplebar, Friedberg partnered with Jeremy Agresti, a scientist and former Harvard fellow whose research was instrumental in creating 10x Genomics.
Friedberg said that finding and recruiting talent is an important part of his job.
“I love science,” he said. “Finding amazing scientists and trying to convince them to do this job is fun for me and a good use of my time.”
In addition to hiring and raising capital, Friedberg has also been busy working at a SPAC. In February, he filed a prospectus for a blank check company called TPB Acquisition, with plans to raise $ 250 million. He later lowered the target to $ 200 million.
The SPAC looks for companies in the same markets that interest TPB. According to the filing, the transaction could even merge one of TPB’s businesses with another company.
“However, we will not complete an initial business combination with just TPB or a TPB portfolio company,” the document reads.
The SPAC has not started negotiating or announced a deal, and Friedberg said he cannot talk about it at this time.
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