7 urban agriculture start-ups worth keeping an eye on

16 Apr 20203.37k Views

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We take a look at some interesting players in the urban agriculture industry, from robotics start-ups to a firm that’s growing insect proteins in a vertical farm.

This week, we’re taking a look at the world of urban and alternative agriculture and some of the emerging names to watch out for in this industry.

From start-ups building vertical farms to eliminate the need for pesticides, to a business that wants to train robots to take the reins at indoor farms, we have gathered seven start-ups from around the world that are approaching agriculture from different angles, receiving backing from the likes of Jeff Bezos, SoftBank, Y Combinator and many others.

Agricool

Parisian start-up Agricool was founded in 2015 by Guillaume Fourdinier and Gonzague Gru. The company grows produce such as strawberries, basil, coriander, parsley and lettuce in built-up areas of Paris and Dubai, before selling the produce in stores within 15km of where the food was grown.

The start-up uses shipping containers with controllable temperature and humidity to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs under LED lights. The start-up’s goal is to save water and the cost of transportation, as well as facilitate the growing of seasonal vegetables all year round, without the use of pesticides.

Agricool has raised around $39m to date. Investors include Bpifrance Large Venture Fund, Danone Manifesto Ventures, Marbeuf Capital and Solomon Hykes. The company currently has eight containers at four urban farms, but plans to launch 100 containers in Paris and Dubai by 2021.

Bowery Farming

Like Agricool, New Jersey start-up Bowery Farming wants to produce vegetables locally and without pesticides. The company claims that its vertical, soil-free indoor farming solution can facilitate the growth of 100 times more products in the same footprint of land as a traditional farm. It also aims to use 95pc less water than traditional agriculture.

Unlike Agricool, which uses shipping containers, Bowery Farming grows its produce inside large warehouses. The start-up is currently selling its greens in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington DC.

In November 2019, Bowery Farming raised $50m in an extension of its Series B, bringing the total raised by the company to $172.5m since it was founded in 2015 by David Golden, Irving Fain and Brian Falther.

Infarm

Infarm is a Berlin-based start-up that was founded in 2013 by Osnat Michaeli and brothers Erez and Guy Galonska. Like the other start-ups featured in this list, Infarm is trying to reduce the distance between the farm and the consumer’s plate.

As well as locations across Germany, the start-up has stocked its produce in Marks & Spencer in the UK, Intermarché in Paris, Irma in Copenhagen and Kroger in Seattle. The start-up combines vertical farms with IoT technologies and machine learning to develop what it calls “smart modular farms” for urban areas.

Infarm’s solution is cloud-based, which means that the farms can be monitored and controlled from a central control hub. Last year, the company raised $100m in its Series B, receiving backing from investors including Atomico, Balderton Capital, Astanor Ventures, Cherry Ventures and TriplePoint Capital.

Intelligent Growth Solutions

Based in Edinburgh, Intelligent Growth Solutions is led by David Farquhar. Founded in 2013, the start-up develops modular indoor farming solutions that can be customised to fit different sites or buildings.

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The company, which raised £7m in its Series A last year, supplies its solution directly to growers and producers around the world.

Intelligent Growth Solutions avoids what it describes as the “limitations” of other indoor farming systems, including power-hungry automation and mechanics used in stacked growing spaces, the power costs of inefficient lighting and weak ventilation, and the inability to grow a wide range of high quality crops.

Iron Ox

Founded in 2015, Iron Ox takes a “robotics-first approach” to agriculture. While focused on creating sustainable, scalable food production for a changing climate and a growing population, this Silicon Valley start-up has developed an autonomous growing and picking solution.

Co-founders Brandon Alexander and Jon Binney believe that robots will play an important role in the future of farming, particularly for older farmers who cannot get the help they need on large farms when younger generations have moved to cities or have pursued careers outside of agriculture.

Backed by Y Combinator, Crosslink Capital, R7 Partners, Tuesday Capital, Amplify Partners, Anorak Ventures and a number of other VC firms, the start-up began selling its produce in California in 2019.

Plenty

Another Silicon Valley player in the indoor agriculture industry is Plenty. Founded in 2014 by Matt Barnard, Jack Oslan, Nate Mazonson and Nate Storey, the start-up has developed a vertical farming solution that claims to use 99pc less land and 95pc less water to grow crops.

The start-up sells its produce, including kale, rocket and other greens, in the San Francisco Bay Area at restaurants and supermarkets such as Whole Foods and Safeway.

Plenty has raised $400m in capital, with plans to raise even more in the coming weeks – which may take it beyond its current $1bn valuation. The start-up has been backed by SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Bezos Expeditions, Innovation Endeavors, DCM Ventures and others.

Ÿnsect

Ÿnsect has developed a vertical agriculture solution that does not feed humans, but pets and aquaculture. The start-up was founded to meet the growing demand for premium proteins and other quality insect ingredients for pet and fish feed.

The start-up’s solution is trying to develop sustainable protein alternatives to feed fish and livestock as the human population increases, while alleviating the depletion of water, soil and fish. The company estimates that global protein consumption is set to increase by 52pc between 2007 and 2030, with increasing demand from both animals and humans.

Founded in 2011, Ÿnsect is a French company that has been backed by Bpifrance, Astanor Ventures, Talis Capital, the European Commission, Climate-KIC, Idinvest Partners and many others. In its latest funding round in February 2019, the company raised $125m.

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Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com