Agtech start-up tackling emissions gets backing from Bill Gates’ fund

23 Sep 2021

Image: Iron Ox

Iron Ox aims to reduce the carbon footprint of farming using robotics and AI.

Silicon Valley agtech start-up Iron Ox has secured $53m in Series C funding led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures.

Founded in 2015, Iron Ox has now raised $98m to date for its autonomous farming technologies.

The ultimate goal for Iron Ox is to rebuild the agricultural model so that fruit and veg can be produced locally and sustainably with a lower carbon footprint. Using robotics and AI to support a data-driven approach to farming, Iron Ox claims to create 30 times more produce per acre using 90pc less water than conventional field farms.

Food from its farms in northern California can be purchased in stores across the San Francisco Bay area, and the company expects to further its reach later this year after breaking ground on a new 535,000 sq ft indoor farm in Texas.

Existing investors in Iron Ox include Crosslink Capital, R7 Partners, Amplify Partners and Y Combinator. This is a first round of investment from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a fund established by Bill Gates and a coalition of private investors in 2015.

With more than $2bn in committed capital, Breakthrough Energy targets its investments at companies and innovations that can help reach a goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This week, it was announced that the fund had secured investments from Microsoft, BlackRock, General Motors, American Airlines, Boston Consulting Group, Bank of America and ArcelorMittal.

Emissions from agriculture have been shown to be a significant contributor to the climate crisis. According to global research non-profit World Resources Institute, without intervention, greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production could increase by 58pc by 2050.

The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that unless there are immediate and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, will be “beyond reach”.

“World-class investors know that humanity’s most important pursuit is to reverse climate change,” said Iron Ox CEO and co-founder Brandon Alexander. “To get there, we can’t settle for incrementally more sustainable crops – and we can’t ask consumers to compromise on taste, convenience or value.”

Iron Ox’s technology sets out to minimise the amount of land, water and energy needed for everyday produce. “The team at Iron Ox will not stop until we achieve our long-term mission of making the produce sector carbon negative,” said Alexander.

The start-up will use this Series C round to expand its retail presence and accelerate hiring. In particular, it’s seeking plant scientists, engineers, roboticists and greenhouse operators to join the team. The company also plans to boost its R&D programmes, accelerate its manufacturing scale-up and expand its operations across the US.

Carmichael Roberts from Breakthrough Energy Ventures said that this investment aligns with the fund’s aim to accelerate innovations that can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

“Iron Ox is uniquely positioned to accelerate the shift towards climate-friendly agriculture, while increasing the accessibility and quality of fresh produce,” he said.

“It’s the type of solution that’s designed to scale quickly and has the potential to get us one big step closer to net zero.”

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Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic

editorial@siliconrepublic.com