Seeds of Change

Founded in Argentina, agtech startup Seed Matriz is developing seed encapsulation technology so farmers can save and plant more seeds — and thanks to investment and support in St. Louis, the business is now growing in the heartland.

Work

Story By Betsy Taylor
Visuals By Michael Thomas

It can be hard to get the timing and growth right when starting a new business, but a group of entrepreneurs from Argentina have found that the St. Louis region provides fertile soil for their expansion efforts.

Seed Matriz, a company founded in Rio Cuarto, Argentina in 2018, is an agribusiness venture that aims to increase crop yields, reduce agricultural and environmental waste, and deliver biostimulants and biopesticides at optimal levels to support responsible farming practices. The business, currently applying for patents in the United States and Argentina, uses an inert material as a form of seed encapsulation. After much trial and error, Seed Matriz says it can layer the material around seeds to make them more uniform in size and shape, and to deliver needed stimulants and protectants to help the crop grow. It also is using technology so farmers can save and plant more seeds.

“The most positive thing is having better yields,” says Jorge Suino, co-founder and chief technology officer of Seed Matriz, which allows farmers to produce more food without an increase in their land or the size of their fields. 

Photos of seeds in Seed Matriz facility in Argentina. Photos by Sebastián Pugliese and Virginia Nicolino courtesy of Seed Matriz.

The company explains its seed encapsulation approach is different from seed coatings, already widely in use in agribusiness. Suino says the addition of related technology and monitoring will also allow farmers using their existing planting equipment to have real-time data about their plantings, related to the depth, distance, germination, and growth of crops, which could allow them to make adjustments during the growing season. Currently, Seed Matriz is exploring seed encapsulation related to sweet corn, popcorn, and waxy corn, though the company believes the approach could be used on other seeds.

The company has done years of its own growing and testing, Suino explains, and acknowledges it has not yet published research that has been independently verified, but is currently working with outside plant scientists and farmers to advance its work. 

Enter the St. Louis agtech and startup ecosystems, which have not only offered Seed Matriz support and investment, but also those very key plant science and agricultural connections and opportunities to advance its work in the cornfields of the Midwest.

Through an agreement with the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Seed Matriz now conducts research and uses the center’s specialized plant science core facilities to better assist them in their research and development, giving the startup access to technology and facilities they likely wouldn’t have on their own.

Jorge Suino, co-founder and chief technology officer of Seed Matriz, works from the CIC co-working space at 20 S. Sarah Street in St. Louis. Photo by Michael Thomas.

Stephanie Regagnon, executive director of Innovation Partnerships at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, says that many organizations have worked to make the St. Louis region an inviting one for plant science businesses and startups like Seed Matriz. 

“I think what we have in St. Louis is unparalleled anywhere else in the world, not just our research capacity and expertise, but the presence of corporate strategics and academia, multiple thriving innovation districts, and entrepreneurial support organizations,” Regagnon says.

She adds that the region’s geographic location in the heartland means plant science businesses can directly engage with farmers and farming organizations.  

In 2023, in an effort to expand that sort of work across the metro area, St. Louis formalized Cultivar STL, led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center along with BioSTL, The Yield Lab Latam, World Trade Center St. Louis, Greater St. Louis, Inc., and the 39 North Agtech Innovation District. The initiative is the culmination of six years of work building relationships in Latin America with organizations, including Seed Matriz, doing work in the agtech space, and it strengthens and sustains partnerships to contribute to economic growth in the metro area and abroad.

Greenhouses on The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center campus. Photos courtesy of The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Last year, Seed Matriz landed another key local connection when it was awarded funding by Arch Grants, which, since 2012, has awarded grants to innovative startups that are solving problems and creating jobs in St. Louis. As part of the program, the organization provides resources and connections to businesses in the metro area.

The $75,000 grants provide some “seed” money to support growing and promising businesses like Seed Matriz, with an additional $25,000 awarded if businesses are headquartered in St. Louis for at least a year. The winning recipients get valuable introductions to an ecosystem of area businesses, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and subject matter experts. 

“We found a strong ecosystem with all the people working together for the same (thing) and it’s to make St. Louis greater,” Suino says. “We didn’t (find) that in Silicon Valley, for example, or other ecosystems.”

Photos of seeds in Seed Matriz facility in Argentina. Photos by Sebastián Pugliese and Virginia Nicolino courtesy of Seed Matriz.

It’s a little challenging to describe startup culture if you’re not living it, but Suino gives it a go. In a baseball cap and button-down shirt, he swipes a card for access into the Cortex coworking space at 4240 Duncan Street in the Central West End.

Here, vivid office spaces with a variety of desks, spaces for collaboration, a podcasting studio and let’s not forget plenty of caffeine and snacks allow room for big thinkers with bold ideas to hunker down, collaborate, and get their work done. 

I wake up in the morning, and I feel this is where I want to be doing what I want to do,” Suino says. 

When he’s not here, Suino is collaborating with the team in Argentina or driving to cornfields in both countries, explaining what this nascent business is working to do, and spreading the word to those unfamiliar with the approach. 

Jorge Suino and Seed Matriz CEO Federico Cola at an Arch Grants event in St. Louis. Photo courtesy Jorge Suino.

The bilingual Suino may be the person often tapped for interviews in English, but he makes it clear he’s part of a team. Seed Matriz was co-founded by Federico Cola, the chief executive officer, who has previous farming and agribusiness experience. The company raised $1.5 million, and is currently talking to potential funders to raise another $2.5 million to $3 million. It has 16 full-time and four part-time employees, Suino says, and grows and tests its plants in fields right by its offices in Argentina.

Chasing dreams will keep a person busy. Suino calculated this spring he had just traveled about 1,500 miles visiting farms, universities, and seed dealers in the Midwestern corn belt. He credits the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan St. Louis for its early introductions to contacts in the St. Louis region. “We feel welcome in St. Louis,” he says. 

Early on, he was told that St. Louis was a “small town in a big city” and says that has been true, as one contact opens a door to another as people want the business to succeed. 

“We knew about St. Louis, and we found everything we (needed here),” Suino says. “We have here the science, the market, and the capital. These are the three main things we need to develop our company.”

Jorge Suino, co-founder and chief technology officer of Seed Matriz, poses in the CIC co-working space at 20 S. Sarah Street in St. Louis. Photo by Michael Thomas.

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