Impello Biosciences

This interview details Impello Biosciences, a Biostimulant company based in the United States. The interview is with Michael Key, Chief Executive Officer of Impello Biosciences.

Source: Impello

What is the origin story of Impello Biosciences?

Impello was founded in 2017 by Michael Key, Adam DeRosa, and Eric Hagstrom after a very simple realization — biological and biostimulant products had amazing potential, but there weren't any products on the market that actually worked as well as they should.

While finishing his studies in horticulture at Colorado State University, Michael had the benefit of working in a microbiology lab on campus, called the Center for Rhizosphere Biology, while simultaneously working on a large-scale organic hemp farm, just after the legalization of that industry. What Michael realized was that the technologies (microbes, in particular) that he was working within the lab had a huge potential to change the way that plants were grown both in the greenhouse and the field, but there weren't any biological or biostimulant products that actually captured this potential.

Source: Impello

Michael was working with what are called "consortia" of plant growth-promoting bacteria — that is, small groups or ecosystems of microbes, rather than just microbial isolates — which was the real game-changer when it came to product efficacy. All of Michael's research in the lab focused on this idea that microbes are constantly interacting with other microbes and with plants, and that beneficial, plant growth-promoting microbes are never found in isolation but rather are always found in groups of microbes, helping to promote the growth of each other and of the plant. So, it struck him as odd that all of the microbial products on the agricultural and horticultural market were isolated microbes. The more he explored this concept, the more he realized that this was a huge part of the reason that the microbial products and biostimulant industry had such limited success in the past.

Source: Impello

Although isolated microbes could provide amazing benefits, like biofungicidal effects, in the lab when grown in a petri dish, their benefits rapidly diminished when they were introduced into more complex environments, like greenhouses, and even more so when they were introduced to the field, where the amount of microbial competition was incredibly high. Michael was seeing significantly better results when using consortia of bacteria in these same applications for a very simple reason: instead of having to fend for themselves in a totally foreign environment, these consortia of microbes could help each other grow — just like they did in nature, where they're originally found — and help the plant grow.

While this knowledge now seems obvious in hindsight, it was a relatively new concept at the time (and still today), and it presents some serious challenges in the manufacturing process. Nonetheless, it was an obvious opportunity, so Impello was founded to specialize in the research, development, and production of biostimulant products, starting with microbial consortia. 

Source: Impello

What are some of the biggest challenges facing Impello Biosciences in the future? 

Over the past 7 years, Impello has stayed true to its original goal of introducing better, more effective microbial products, in the form of microbial consortia, to the ag and Hort industries. The breadth of Impello's research has expanded dramatically, which presents a huge number of challenges on its own; for example, Impello is currently working on a drought-mitigating microbial consortia to help growers of many different crop types maintain yields and plant health under water-restricted conditions.

Unlike many of the other drought-mitigating products on the market, Impello has had to invent an entirely new approach to screen, select, and grow the right combinations of microbes — starting with tens of thousands of microbes of interest and millions of potential combinations. These research and development challenges are excellent problems to work on, because when they work, the results are extraordinary, but they require an enormous amount of capital, equipment, and innovative thinking, which often times contradicts the 'conventional wisdom' of microbiology and plant physiology. 

Source: Impello

Looking ahead, Impello expects to find plenty of new challenges of this type in research and development but also sees a number of challenges in the market: microbes, biostimulants, and agrobiotechnology, in general, are still not particularly well-understood across all agricultural and horticultural industries, and many growers who have had bad experiences with these types of products in the past are reluctant to keep trying new ones.

We've realized at Impello that 'education is evolution' in this sense, and that it's our job not just to produce really good products that work as well as we claim they do, but also to educate our customers, and the ag and Hort industries in general, on both how these products work and why they work. This is a massive challenge, but it's critical, not only for the success of Impello but also the future of agriculture and horticulture. Collectively, we have to be more sustainable, and we always strive for higher performance, quality, and efficiency. Biostimulants can help us improve in all of those areas, but only if we get widespread adoption. 

Source: Impello

What is unique about Impello Biosciences compared to competitors? 

That depends on who you ask. If you ask an MBA, they'd probably say it's that we actually make money (which is easier said than done in this industry)! But the science that we do at Impello is really the exciting part for me, and that's what matters for our customers, so I think the most unique thing about Impello is our unrelenting belief that we can always do better. It's really tempting in research and development to stop when you get to something that's "good enough", and it's really hard to convince yourself that "good enough" actually isn't.

We have the privilege of operating the company how we want, which is an applied R&D company — we only exist to make better products and push the limits of biostimulant technologies to accelerate the evolution of horticulture and agriculture. We don't stop development when a product is "good enough" so that we can coast for a decade before introducing something marginally better. We are all-in on rapid advancements, so the rate of development within the company is really much faster than most of our competitors. 

Source: Impello

What are some other relevant metrics of the company (growing area size, production quantity, team size, etc.)?

We bootstrapped the company for the first few years, so we grew slower than some well-funded competitors of ours, but we retained control of the company the whole time and got to reinvest our profits in the business as we saw fit. That said, the last few years of the company have been big growth years for us, and we'll be at about 20 employees by the end of this year. Last year, between all of our crop markets (including indoor, greenhouse, and open field), our products were used on over 6,500 acres — most of which was indoor or greenhouse — and we're on track to double that in 2024.

Source: Impello

We're still a small team, but we're increasing our production capacity significantly this year, especially with our pipeline microbial products, which we took from picoliter volumes (one trillionth of a liter) in the earliest development stage up to 10L by the end of 2023. That was an increase in volume of 13 orders of magnitude! So we won't quite match that scale-up rate in 2024, but we will be scaling up those new products to commercial scale — tens of thousands of liters — and continuing to expand and refine the commercial production of our existing products. 

Source: Impello

What are some goals in 2024 and beyond for Impello Biosciences?

We started as a biostimulant company with the belief that biostimulants can and should be used on all crop types, not just to increase yield, but to increase the quality of the yield. That said, with such an emphasis on quality, we came into the agriculture and horticulture industries the opposite way that most companies like ours do — instead of targeting the 200 million acres of corn and soy in the USA, we targeted the cannabis industry, which was super quality-focused and an ultra high-value crop.

However, we never wanted to be only a cannabis company; rather, we wanted to use cannabis as a model for what our products could do, and use our success in that industry to move into other controlled environment ag industries and then eventually into specialty crops in the open field. 2024 is the first year we'll be firing on all cylinders in that regard. We've spent the last four years preparing the company and made this transition successfully into non-cannabis CEA crops, including greenhouse food crops and ornamentals, and now we're really excited to be getting our products onto significant acreage in the open field specialty crop markets in California, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, and elsewhere in North America and Europe. 

Source: Impello

How can people connect with you or learn more about Impello Biosciences?

Our website is a great place to start, and we're constantly uploading more educational content in addition to all of the product info: impellobio.com You can also connect with us over the phone at (720) 772-9767 or by emailing info@impellobio.com; either way, we'll get you connected with the right person in the company. Of course, you'll find us on social media, too: we're on Instagram and YouTube @impellobio and on Facebook @impellobiosciences

Source: Impello

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