CREVE COEUR — Fast-growing plant science firm Benson Hill Biosystems is doubling down on St. Louis with a plan to build a new headquarters in the 39 North agricultural technology district that could accommodate its growth to 300 employees.
“I can’t say I ever envisioned this,” said President and CEO Matt Crisp, who co-founded the firm in 2012 with Todd Mockler, a Donald Danforth Plant Science Center researcher. “The momentum we’ve gained has exceeded our expectations.”
Benson Hill touts its platform technology as a cheaper, more efficient way for companies to analyze and make improvements in plant genetics, and economic development officials have said it has the potential to “fundamentally disrupt” the plant science sector. In September, it raised $60 million from investors led by GV, the venture capital arm of Google’s parent company.
Benson Hill, an advanced genomics company, raises $60 million
Developer Larry Chapman will build the $52 million, 160,000-square-foot office building on the Danforth Center campus off of North Warson Road, just to the east of an existing office building on what is now a parking lot. The developer plans to apply for property tax abatement from St. Louis County, an incentive the existing BRDG Park office building on the Danforth campus also received.
Crisp, interviewed Tuesday at a groundbreaking ceremony for the project, said the company hopes to have the new office ready by the second quarter of next year and that Benson Hill would occupy the majority of the space.
Already, the company is on a hiring spree. Its workforce of nearly 120 employees has grown by about 50 percent within the last year, and Crisp said it is advertising for about 30 positions now.
Some of the firm’s earliest investment came from St. Louis venture and seed capital, such as Biogenerator, the Helix Fund, Cultivation Capital and Lewis & Clark Ventures.
Creve Coeur calls effort 'the region’s largest economic development project and job creator for the next 20 years.'
“We went for three years without getting paid, without our own lab infrastructure,” Crisp said. “We did what had to be done to succeed.”
It has been out of space for some time at the nearby Helix Center incubator, owned by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, where the young firm began growing. When it started, the firm was mostly in North Carolina’s Research Triangle area, another hotbed for innovative companies. Crisp said the company decided to shift its employees to St. Louis to take advantage of the area’s plant science talent and infrastructure. He’s been commuting between the two regions for years, but he said now he’ll be living about a mile away from the new office.
“I might even walk to work,” Crisp said.
Benson Hill’s decision to grow in St. Louis is a “validation” of the region’s focus on plant science and the infrastructure it has put in place to incubate young firms in the industry, said Rodney Crim, interim chief executive officer of the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.
The independent nonprofit research institution in Creve Coeur is banking on $5 million in state tax credits to help raise money for the project.
“This is a big win for the region,” he said. “This company could have gone anywhere.”
Originally, the Partnership planned to expand the Helix Center to accommodate Benson Hill, its biggest tenant there. But the company opted for a new building, and Crim said that will allow other young firms to use the lab space in the Helix Center to grow. He said the Partnership is still considering an expansion of the incubator.
“This is the success story we want to see repeated,” Crim said.
The Partnership is working to find funding to carry out its master plan for the 39 North plant science district. It wants to make Old Olive Street Road into a more pedestrian-friendly area and build trails in the Danforth area. The Lindbergh and Olive boulevard redesign being handled by the Partnership is already funded and construction could begin next year.
And the Danforth Center has submitted an application to the Missouri Department of Economic development for $5 million in tax credits to facilitate a $15 million expansion of its greenhouses. Benson Hill uses about 7,000 square feet of Danforth greenhouse space now, a footprint that could double in coming years.
“Benson Hill is a product of our innovation ecosystem, and we are so proud to see the company grow in new facilities on our campus,” said James Carrington, Danforth Center president.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to clarify the Helix Center incubator is owned by the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, not St. Louis County.