AgroSpheres, Inc. has been awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant for $225,000 to collaborate with North Carolina State University and conduct research and development (R&D) work on an RNAi biological insecticide for the western flower thrips.
Western flower thrips are one of the most economically devastating insect pests across the globe. Not only does their feeding cause significant crop damage, thrips also serve as vectors for over seven different destructive plant viruses. Traditional chemical methods for control have proven ineffective because western flower thrips have acquired resistance to over 30 different synthetic pesticides. To reduce losses incurred by thrips and provide an affordable and safe solution to farmers, AgroSpheres has teamed up with experts, Dr. Dorith Rotenberg and Dr. Anna Whitfield, to develop a novel biopesticide engineered to target western flower thrips through RNA interference.
“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”
“AgroSpheres is motivated by the vote of confidence from the NSF to develop the next generation of crop protection products, said Ameer Shakeel,” Chief Technology Officer at AgroSpheres. “We believe we have a transformative technology.” The NC State team is excited to start their collaboration with AgroSpheres. “We are looking forward to applying our basic knowledge of western flower thrips biology to test AgroSpheres’ novel RNAi technology to control this important crop pest and virus vector,” says Dorith Rotenberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Entomology and Plant Pathology. She adds, “We see the potential of this innovation to specifically kill thrips without harming non-targeted organisms.”
Once a small business is awarded a Phase I SBIR/STTR grant (up to $225,000), it becomes eligible to apply for a Phase II grant (up to $750,000). Small businesses with Phase II grants are eligible to receive up to $500,000 in additional matching funds with qualifying third-party investment or sales.
NSF accepts Phase I proposals from small businesses twice annually in June and December. Small businesses with innovative science and technology solutions, and commercial potential are encouraged to apply. All proposals submitted to the NSF SBIR/STTR program, also known as America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, undergo a rigorous merit-based review process.
To learn more about America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF, visit: https://seedfund.nsf.gov/
About the National Science Foundation’s Small Business Programs: America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.5 million in non-dilutive funds to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.1 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.
About AgroSpheres: AgroSpheres Inc. is a Charlottesville, VA-based agricultural biotechnology company developing technology to enhance the delivery of crop protection products. Co-founders, COO Payam Pourtaheri and CTO Ameer Shakeel developed AgroSpheres’ core technology while students at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and formed AgroSpheres to commercialize the technology.