Stevia First Corp. enjoyed a transformative year in 2012, including our emergence in the public markets and taking key steps towards the fermentation-based production of stevia. We have built a strong foundation, both on the operational and corporate side, which positions us for additional growth in 2013.
The company obtained an exclusive and worldwide license from Vineland Research for intellectual property derived from a patent on "Compositions and methods for production of steviol and steviol glycosides." We added R&D staff, facilities, and equipment in California that provide us with technological capabilities that clearly differentiates us within our market segment. Institutional investors provided multiple rounds of financing, and on favorable terms, which has helped us expand operations while safeguarding shareholder value.
Our efforts are moving forward quickly, so I'd like to share with you key developments we plan to achieve this year, and to describe them with clarity in order to impart some of the enthusiasm shared by the Stevia First team and many in the investment community:
Stevia First aims to:
1. Demonstrate the directed production of steviol or steviol glycosides through microbial fermentation,
2. Complete engineering work on fermentation systems, or key fermentation components, which clearly show a near-term commercial product opportunity resulting from deployment of this technology,
3. Advance R&D related to discovery and production of next-generation stevia sweeteners, and communicate the importance of this work to validate leadership within our industry,
4. Demonstrate how our Stevia First natural tabletop sweetener is distinguished from major competitors, and introduce a formal launch of this high quality consumer product,
5. Demonstrate utilization of modernized stevia leaf extraction methods in the United States, and establish how this compares favorably to traditional leaf extraction methods used by current overseas suppliers and,
6. Complete and announce results from our California stevia field trials.
In addition, I would like to summarize developments that occurred last year, which have prepared us to meet the milestones described above.
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT
Fermentation Technologies: The Company advanced pioneering work into the use of fermentation for the production and extraction of steviol glycosides, the same sweet constituents that are found naturally within the stevia leaf. This program is supported by intellectual property, including an exclusive and worldwide license to patents that are granted in the U.S., across several countries of the European Union, and in Canada. Along with the licensing agreement from Vineland Research, the Company also entered into a separate and exclusive consulting arrangement aimed at furthering development of this significant intellectual property. As a result, additional staff were hired for internal support of this program as well as the initiation of contract development efforts with multiple biotechnology firms offering specialist expertise.
Stevia Field Trials: Our stevia field trials were initiated in 2012 and are designed to support the growth of stevia as a cash crop for California growers through better understanding of cultivation requirements and through improvement or modernization of the crop production system. This will enable Stevia First to produce large quantities of stevia leaf either through traditional or organic cultivation practices. Stevia leaf from these trials is also slated to support R&D efforts, including use as feedstock with fermentation and related extraction processing.
Consumer Product Focus: The Company added key advisors, including thought leaders in product development as well as leading stevia producers. Extensive market research was conducted internally and in collaboration with product development advisors, leading to the initial concept and development of a Stevia First-branded tabletop sweetener.
Facilities Development: We completed significant modifications to our facilities at company headquarters in Yuba City, California. This included upgrades to our R&D laboratory, equipment, and offices, plus new construction of propagation and greenhouse capacity. Additional lands are under evaluation for their use with stevia extraction and processing, and for the location of expanded stevia field trials.
Staffing: The Company has attracted leadership for both its agronomy and fermentation programs, including management at the Ph.D. level. Internal scientific work and knowledge transfer is augmented through multiple exclusive contractual arrangements providing us direct access to leading experts within specialized fields, including individuals that have made seminal discoveries and developed extensive intellectual property related to stevia agronomy, stevia genetics, and industrial fermentation processes. This level of advisory expertise has been invaluable when combined with our growing internal capabilities, and as our activities increasingly shift from research and development into commercial-scale production.
Intellectual Property: We obtained an exclusive and worldwide license to intellectual property including a patent titled, "Compositions and methods for production of steviol and steviol glycosides" from Vineland Research which identifies a key enzyme used for the production of steviol glycosides with fermentation technologies. This license includes a portfolio of patents issued in the U.S., Canada, and across the major countries of the European Union.
Financing: We added $2 million in additional outside financing in 2012. All financings were completed with institutional investors, and the most recent financing in November 2012 included Dawson James Securities as the company's placement agent. In addition, a significant majority of the company's common shareholders agreed to sign an extended lock-up agreement as a testament to their ongoing support and long-term investment outlook.
Governance: As part of our entry into the public markets, we added new board members, board committees, and company governance mechanisms. Our board includes seasoned veterans with experience forming, building, and managing biotechnology and agricultural businesses, (both public and private), which has provided management with access to a large network of strategic advisors, real estate assets, and business development opportunities. We added an experienced controller and outside securities counsel, efficiently positioning the Company to meet public company compliance and disclosure requirements, and that ultimately enables Stevia First to maintain focus on operations and R&D execution.
In conclusion, I'd like to say thank you to our shareholders, and to everyone who actively follows what we do at Stevia First. Your continued support is very much appreciated, and is what drives us towards rapidly becoming a sector-disruptive, first-of-kind, stevia enterprise in the United States. We enthusiastically look forward to 2013, and to providing more details of our progress in the near future.