Anuvia raises $103 million to commercialize its novel fertilizer

Anuvia Plant Nutrients has raised $103 million to commercialize its novel fertilizer technology.

The company, backed by investors like TPG ART, Pontifax Global Food and Agriculture Technology Fund, Generate Capital andPiva Capital, is now ready to roll out its tech, which is already used on roughly 1200 farms and is projected to be on 20 million acres of farmland by 2025. 

Now led by longtime agriculture executive Amy Yoder, who represents the sixth generation of a Michigan farm family, Anuvia pitches its tech as a supplement for crops that can boost productivity by taking excrement, food waste and agricultural processing waste and converting that into useful fertilizer using a proprietary catalytic process. 

By treating the waste with a specific blend of chemicals Yoder said Anuvia’s technology can control the release of nutrients as plants grow to make more productive crops and reduce leaching into soil, protecting groundwater and restoring carbon to the soil.

Anuvia is one of a growing number of agriculture technology companies trying to juice crop productivity and capture carbon to provide additional revenues from more abundant crops and carbon capture and storage. Other startups, including Pivot Bio, Indigo Agriculture, AgBiome, and Agrinos, are all developing other crop treatments that can purportedly boost agricultural production.

“Most of what I see would be very complimentary to us,” said Yoder. “Because we put the carbon back into the soil, because the nutrients are held in different way. You could utilize the pivot technology and the Anuvia technology. Those things when they could piggyback together could make really nice solutions in the longterm.”

The Winter Garden, Fla.-based company has a 1.2 million ton facility for production, but the company wants to build out additional capacity and continue developing new fertilizers to take to market, Yoder said.

Farmers using the product see increased yields of around five times their previous production levels and the product can be used on all the main row crops, according to Yoder.

That claim has been verified by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), a leading global environmental consulting firm, versus traditional fertilizer on corn, rice, and cotton.

Anuvia’s treatment can also reduce greenhouse gases on production by up to 32% compared to commercial fertilizers. Anuvia estimates that its products could provide emissions reductions equivalent to removing 30,000 cars from roads. If the company can get farmers to apply its treatment to the 90 million acres of corn in the U.s. that would reduce the equivalent emissions of 1.8 million cars, according to a statement.

“With the world’s population expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, we need technology-enabled, large-scale agriculture to meet this growing demand,” says Dr. Geoff Duyk, Founder and Managing Partner of Circularis and Anuvia Board Member. “Anuvia’s technology will help farms continue to feed the world, while also advancing the circular economy, increasing sustainability, and enhancing resource efficiency.” 

 

#agriculture, #articles, #board-member, #chemicals, #florida, #food-waste, #indigo, #managing-partner, #michigan, #soil, #tc, #technology, #united-states

0

Future Acres launches with the arrival of crop-transporting robot, Carry

When people ask me which robotics categories are poised for the biggest growth, I often point to agriculture. The technology already has a strong foothold in places like warehouse and logistics, but it’s impossible to look at the American – and global – farming community and not see a lot of potential for human-assisted automation.

The category still seems fairly wide open — but not for lack of interest. There are a number of companies both large and small carving out niches in the category. For now, at least, it seems there’s room for a number of different players. After all, needs vary greatly from farm to farm and crop to crop.

Santa Monica-based Future Acres is launching today, with plans to tackle grape picking. An outgrowth of Wavemaker Partners — the same firm that gave the world burger-flipping Miso Robotics — the startup is also announce its first robot, Carry.

Image Credits: Future Acres

“We see Carry as a kind of harvesting sidekick for workers. It’s an autonomous harvesting companion,” CEO Suma Reddy tells TechCrunch. “What it can do in the real world is transport up to 500 lbs. of crops in all terrain and all weather. It can increase production efficiency by up to 80%, which means it pays for itself in only 80 days.”

Carry relies on AI to transport hand-picked crops, working alongside humans rather than attempting to replace the delicate picking process outright. The company is expecting that farms will purchase multiple machines that can work in tandem to speed up their process and help reduce the human strain of moving the crops around manually.

Image Credits: Future Acres

The company is still in early stages, having developed a prototype of Carry. It’s also exploring some partnerships for development. The systems would run $10,000-$15,000 up front, though the company says it’s looking at a RaaS (robotics as a service) model, as a way to defer that cost.

Interest in agricultural robotics has only increased during the pandemic, amid health concerns and labor issues. The company is building on that interest by launching a campaign on SeedInvest, in hopes of raising $3 million, in addition to funding already provided by Wavemaker.

#agriculture, #future-acres, #robotics, #startups

0

Kenyan insurtech startup Pula raises $6M Series A to derisk smallholder farmers across Africa

Pula, a Kenyan insurtech startup that specialises in digital and agricultural insurance to derisk millions of smallholder farmers across Africa, has closed a Series A investment of $6 million.

The round was led by Pan-African early-stage venture capital firm,  TLcom Capital, with participation from nonprofit Women’s World Banking. The raise comes after Pula closed $1 million in seed investment from Rocher Participations with support from Accion Venture Lab, Omidyar Network and several angel investors in 2018.  

Founded by Rose Goslinga and Thomas Njeru in 2015, Pula delivers agricultural insurance and digital products to help smallholder farmers navigate climate risks, improve their farming practices and bolster their incomes over time.

Agriculture insurance has traditionally relied on farm business. In the U.S. or Europe with typically large farms, an average insurance premium is $1,000. But in Africa, where smallholding or small-scale farms are the norms, the number stands at an average of $4.

It is particularly telling that the value of agricultural insurance premiums in Africa represents less than 1 percent of the world’s total when the continent has 17 percent of the world’s arable land. 

This disparity stems from the fact that the traditional method of calculating insurance through farm visits is often unaffordable for these smallholder farmers. Thus, they are often neglected from financial protection against climate risks like flood, drought, pestilence and hail.

Pula is solving this problem by using technology and data. Through its Area Yield Index Insurance product, the insurtech startup leverages machine learning, crop cuts experiments and data points relating to weather patterns and farmer losses, to build products that cater to various risks.

But getting farmers on board has never been easy, Goslinga told TechCrunch. According to her, Pula has understood not to sell insurance directly to small-scale farmers, because they can suffer from optimism bias. “Some think a climate disaster wouldn’t hit their farms for a particular season; hence, they don’t ask for insurance initially. But if they witness any of these climate risks during the season, they would want to get insurance, which is counterproductive to Pula,” said the founder in a phone call.

Image Credits: Pula

So the startup instead partners with banks. Banks provide loans to farmers and make it compulsory for them to have insurance. With the loan, banks can pay the insurance on behalf of the farmers at the start of the season. But at the end of the season, the farmer has to repay the loan with interest.

“The unit economics doesn’t work for us to work with farmers directly. But with banks, we know they provide loans to farmers with much better margins to pay for insurance. Also, we work together with government subsidy programs since they’re also interested in protecting their farmers.”

Through its partnerships with banks, governments and agricultural input companies, Pula is at the center of an ecosystem that provides insurance to smallholder farmers and has amassed 50 insurance partners and six reinsurance partners. 

Its clientele includes the likes of the World Food Programme and Central Bank of Nigeria as well as the Zambian and Kenyan governments. Social enterprises like One Acre Fund, startups like Apollo Agriculture, and agribusiness giants like Flour Mills and Export Trading Group are also among Pula’s clients.

Co-CEOs with agricultural backgrounds

When Goslinga met Njeru in 2008, she worked for Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture (SFSA). There, she started Kilimo Salama, as a micro-insurance program for more than 200,000 farmers in Kenya and Rwanda. She met Njeru who was the lead actuary at UAP Insurance, a partner to the Kilimo Salama program, at the time.

After staying with Syngenta for six years and recognising the need to provide standard insurance products for smallholder farmers, Goslinga left to start Pula with Njeru in 2015. However, it wasn’t until two years later that Njeru joined fulltime as he had a six-year engagement with Deloitte South Africa from 2012 as a consultant actuary. The pair both act as co-CEOs.

“When Thomas and I launched Pula in 2015, we had one goal in mind: to build and deliver scalable insurance solutions for Africa’s 700 million smallholder farmers,” Goslinga said. “With our latest funding, now is the time to break into new ground. In our five years since launching, we’ve built strong traction for our products. However, the fact remains that across Africa and other emerging markets, there are still millions of smallholder farmers with risks to their livelihoods that have not been covered.”

According to Goslinga, the COVID-19 pandemic helped Pula double its footprint and size as rural farming activities and operations continued despite pandemic-induced lockdowns. 

Pula co-founders and Co-CEOs (Rose Goslinga and Thomas Njeru)

Therefore, the new financing will scale up operations in its existing 13 markets across Africa, where it has insured over 4.3 million farmers. They include Senegal, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. Likewise, the Kenyan startup hopes to propel its expansion for smallholder farmers in Asia and Latin America.

Pula is one of the few African startups disrupting the farming industry with technology. Its Series A investment attests that investors’ appetite for agritech startups is still on the rise.

A week ago, Aerobotics, a South African startup that uses artificial intelligence to help farmers protect their trees and fruits from risks, raised a Series B round of $17 million. Last month, SunCulture, a Kenyan startup that provides solar power systems, water pumps and irrigation systems for small-scale farmers, raised $14 million. 

Another startup is Apollo Agriculture which raised $6 million Series A, akin to Pula. Not only did the pair raise the same round, Apollo Agriculture and Pula both deal with providing financial resources to smallholder farmers. But while both companies might look like competitors, even to the admission of Goslinga, she argues that the startups are partners and complement each other.

As part of the new fundraise, TLcom’s senior partner Omobola Johnson will join Pula’s board. However, it was her colleague, Maurizio Caio, the firm’s managing partner, who had something to say about the round. 

“The potential for the insurance market for smallholder farmers in Africa is huge, and under the leadership of Rose and Thomas, Pula has rapidly established a strong presence throughout the continent and has several high-profile clients on their books. We are confident of Pula’s potential for growth in spite of the pandemic and look forward to partnering with them as they execute the next phase of their journey,” he said in a statement.

For the lead investor, Pula’s investment marks the culmination of its busiest run of investments having led and co-led rounds in Okra, Shara, Autochek and Ilara Health within the past year.

Christina Juhasz, CIO at Women’s World Banking, the other investor in the round, explained that the organisation cut a check for Pula “given the legions of women engaged in small-hold farming and securing the food supply for communities around the globe.”

#africa, #agriculture, #food, #funding, #pula, #recent-funding, #tlcom-capital

0

South African startup Aerobotics raises $17M to scale its AI-for-agriculture platform

As the global agricultural industry stretches to meet expected population growth and food demand, and food security becomes more of a pressing issue with global warming, a startup out of South Africa is using artificial intelligence to help farmers manage their farms, trees, and fruits.

Aerobotics is a South African startup that provides intelligent tools to the world’s agriculture industry. It raised $17 million in an oversubscribed Series B round.

South African consumer internet giant Naspers led the round through its investment arm, Naspers Foundry, investing $5.6 million, according to Aerobotics. Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank, and Platform Investment Partners, also participated.

Founded in 2014 by James Paterson and Benji Meltzer, Aerobotics is currently focused on building tools for fruit and tree farmers. Using artificial intelligence, drones and other robotics, its technology helps track and assess the health of these crops, including identifying when trees are sick, tracking pests and diseases, and analytics for better yield management. 

The company has progressed its technology and provides independent and reliable yield estimations and harvest schedules to farmers by collecting and processing both tree and fruit imagery from citrus growers early in the season. In turn, farmers can prepare their stock, predict demand, and ensure their customers have the best quality of produce.

Aerobotics has experienced record growth in the last few years. For one, it claims to have the largest proprietary data set of trees and citrus fruit in the world having processed 81 million trees and more than a million citrus fruit.

The seven-year-old startup is based in Cape Town, South Africa. At a time when many of the startups out of the African continent have focused their attention primarily on identifying and fixing challenges at home, Aerobotics has found a lot of traction for its services abroad, too. It has offices in the U.S., Australia, and Portugal — like Africa, home to other major, global agricultural economies — and operates in 18 countries across Africa, the Americas, Europe, and Australia. 

Image Credits: Aerobotics

Within that, the U.S. is the company’s primary market, and Aerobotics says it has two provisional patents pending in the country, one for systems and methods for estimating tree age and another for systems and methods for predicting yield.  

The company said it plans to use this Series B investment to continue developing more technology and product delivery, both for the U.S. and other markets. 

“We’re committed to providing intelligent tools to optimize automation, minimize inputs and maximize production. We look forward to further co-developing our products with the agricultural industry leaders,” said Paterson, the CEO in a statement.

Once heralded as a frontier for technology centuries ago, the agriculture industry has stalled in that aspect for a long while. However, agritech companies like Aerobotics that support climate-smart agriculture and help farmers have sprung forth trying to take the industry back to its past glory. Investors have taken notice and over the past five years, investments have flowed with breathtaking pace. 

For Aerobotics, it raised $600,000 from 4Di Capital and Savannah Fund as part of its seed round in September 2017. The company then raised a further $4 million in Series A funding in February 2019, led by Nedbank Capital and Paper Plane Ventures.

Naspers Foundry, the lead investor in this Series B round, was launched by Naspers in 2019 as a 1.4 billion rand (~$100 million) fund for tech startups in South Africa. Asides Aerobotics, Naspers Foundry has invested in online cleaning service, SweepSouth, and food service platform, Food Supply Network. 

#aerobotics, #agriculture, #agritech, #artificial-intelligence, #enterprise, #food, #funding, #naspers-foundry

0

Lawn startup Sunday raises millions to help you with your backyard

Inspiration to launch a lawn-care company struck Coulter Lewis when he was shopping for lawn-care products one day. The entrepreneur, who previously worked as a designer and co-founder of a snack company, says the stench of pesticides and herbicides piled high was too strong to ignore.

Lewis began researching safer alternatives to fertilize his backyard. His research showed him that he wasn’t alone: a typical managed lawn in the United States gets five times more pesticides per acre than the average industrial farm. A lack of options on the market inspired him to create his own.

Founded in 2019, Sunday is a direct-to-consumer company that wants to sell customized, eco-friendly lawn care to the approximately 90 million Americans who have lawns. To date, it has fertilized more than 10,000 acres of lawn.

“We’re selling agtech for your backyard,” Lewis said. It’s a catchy way to describe the more complicated process of creating custom lawn plans. The company brought on chief science officer Frank Rossi, who has a PhD at Cornell, to create its core product, which requires a mix of tech and science to work.

Sunday starts by taking a customer’s home address and, based on the location, can begin gleaning what types of soil it will be working with. By using machine learning, satellite imagery and property data, Sunday creates a custom plan with nutrients to address problem areas, such as grass health in different bio-environmental situations. The end-product includes ingredients that are hard to find in on-shelf solutions, like seaweed extract and soy protein.

Kits include instructions, a pouch of pre-measured nutrients to attach to a hose and spray, and soil test. While each kit is customized, lawn-care products are highly regulated and need state approval. Sunday has 24 iterations of its core product now out that meet this approval.

Image Credits: Sunday

Once the solution is created, customers have to pay for a full season or full year to get installments shipped to their homes. As customers use Sunday’s lawn-care products, the startup also uses aerial imagery to check on the status of users’ lawns throughout the experience.

Sunday sells at a variety of price points, and is dependent on lawn size, but Lewis does claim it’s “much cheaper” than hiring a professional to come and fertilize your lawn. “When you look at a lot of more modern, [consumer] businesses, there’s kind of more of a coastal millennial focus,” he said. “Whereas we’re thinking more about 90 million Americans, where the…median American income is $65,000 per household.”

Interestingly, Sunday says that its customers skew younger, between 30 and 40 years old, and concentrate in Middle America states (where lawns are more of a reality). The age range makes sense because it encapsulates new families moving to the suburbs and first-time homeowners. Most of its customers have smaller suburban lawns.

When asked why they aren’t selling to golf courses or going the B2B route, Lewis said that “it’s certainly something that we think about a lot.” The company is currently working to partner with parks to help remove toxic pesticides from public spaces, but talks are in the early stages.

The lack of innovation around lawn care might also signal a lack of demand from consumers. One of Sunday’s biggest hurdles when launching in 2019 was if it could convince consumers to care about one of the biggest crops in the backyard — their backyards.

The coronavirus has also accelerated the migration of new families from cities to suburbs, Lewis says. According to the Census, home ownership has hit a 12-year high. This year, Sunday is set to do 8X in revenue as it did in 2019, where it was making “millions in revenue.” Lewis declined to share profitability metrics or answer if Sunday was profitable.

Despite this, venture capitalists seem bullish on a startup serving up an alternative to lawn care.

Today, Sunday announced that it has raised $19 million in Series B financing led by Sequoia Capital, with participation from Tusk Ventures and Forerunner Ventures. The raise brings Stephanie Zhan, partner at Sequoia Capital, to the board.

In an email to TechCrunch, Zhan likened Sunday to other Sequoia portfolio companies such as Glossier, DoorDash, Instacart and Noom, saying that she thinks that “Sunday has a similar opportunity to build a compounding consumer subscription business and a defining brand for outdoor homecare.”

The new money will allow Sunday to grow its 40-person staff with 30 new hires. Currently, there is only one female executive on Sunday’s team, although Lewis says they are committed to hiring a more diverse team.

It takes capital to serve the average American household, and with the new financing, Sunday has a total of $28 million in known venture financing to help, at the very least, with your backyard.

#agriculture, #early-stage, #farming, #forerunner, #fundings-exits, #get-sunday, #recent-funding, #sequoia-capital, #startups, #tc, #tusk-ventures

0

New York-based indoor ag company Gotham Greens raises $87 million

Lettuce celebrate the rise of indoor agriculture.

In the past few months AppHarvest, a developer of greenhouse tomato farms went public through a special purpose acquisition vehicle, vertical farming giant Plenty raised $140 million, and now Gotham Greens, which is developing its own network of greenhouses, is announcing the close of $87 million in new funding.

These new agriculture companies certainly have a green thumb when it comes to raising a cornucopia of capital.

Gotham Greens latest round takes the company to a whopping total of $130 million in funding since its launch. Investors in the round included Manna Tree and The Silverman Group.

While App Harvest has taken to tomatoes in its attempt to ketchup with the leading agricultural companies, Gotham Greens has decided to let its hydroponically grown leafy greens lead the way to riches.

The company said it would use the latest funding to continue developing more greenhouse across the U.S. and bring new vegetables to market.

“Given increasing challenges facing centralized food supply chains, combined with rapidly shifting consumer preferences, Gotham Greens is focused on expanding its regional growing operations and distribution capabilities at one of the most critical periods for America,” said Viraj Puri, the co-founder and chief executive of Gotham Greens, in a statement. 

The company already sells its greens in over 40 states and operates greenhouses in Chicago, Providence, R.I., Baltimore and Denver. From those greenhouses the company distributes to 2,000 retail locations including Whole Foods Markets, Albertsons stores, Meijer, Target, King Soopers, Harris Teeter, ShopRite and Sprouts. 

And Gotham Greens has already begun to expand its product portfolio. The company now sells packaged salads, cooking sauces, and salad bowls in addition to its greens.

Assorted packages of Gotham Greens lettuces on a white field. Image Credit: Gotham Greens

#agriculture, #albertsons, #america, #baltimore, #chicago, #denver, #gotham-greens, #greenhouse, #greens, #hydroponics, #king, #plenty, #providence, #rhode-island, #target, #tc, #united-states, #urban-agriculture, #whole-foods

0

SunCulture wants to turn Africa into the world’s next bread basket, one solar water pump at a time

The world’s food supply must double by the year 2050 to meet the demands from a growing population, according to a report from the United Nations. And as pressure mounts to find new crop land to support the growth, the world’s eyes are increasingly turning to the African continent as the next potential global breadbasket.

While Africa has 65% of the world’s remaining uncultivated arable land, according to the African Development Bank, the countries on the continent face significant obstacles as they look to boost the productivity of their agricultural industries.

On the continent, 80% of families depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, but only 4% use irrigation. Many families also lack access to reliable and affordable electricity. It’s these twin problems that Samir Ibrahim and his co-founder at SunCulture, Charlie Nichols, have spent the last eight years trying to solve.

Armed with a new financing model and purpose-built small solar power generators and water pumps, Nichols and Ibrahim, have already built a network of customers using their equipment to increase incomes by anywhere from five to ten times their previous levels by growing higher-value cash crops, cultivating more land and raising more livestock.

The company also has just closed on $14 million in funding to expand its business across Africa.

“We have to double the amount of food we have to create by 2050, and if you look at where there are enough resources to grow food and a lot of point — all signs point to Africa. You have a lot of farmers and a lot of land, and a lot of resources,” Ibrahim said.

African small farmers face two big problems as they look to increase productivity, Ibrahim said. One is access to markets, which alone is a huge source of food waste, and the other is food security because of a lack of stable growing conditions exacerbated by climate change.

As one small farmer told The Economist earlier this year, ““The rainy season is not predictable. When it is supposed to rain it doesn’t, then it all comes at once.”

Ibrahim, who graduated from New York University in 2011, had long been drawn to the African continent. His father was born in Tanzania and his mother grew up in Kenya and they eventually found their way to the U.S. But growing up, Ibrahim was told stories about East Africa.

While pursuing a business degree at NYU Ibrahim met Nichols, who had been working on large scale solar projects in the U.S., at an event for budding entrepreneurs in New York.

The two began a friendship and discussed potential business opportunities stemming from a paper Nichols had read about renewable energy applications in the agriculture industry.

After winning second place in a business plan competition sponsored by NYU, the two men decided to prove that they should have won first. They booked tickets to Kenya and tried to launch a pilot program for their business selling solar-powered water pumps and generators.

Conceptually solar water pumping systems have been around for decades. But as the costs of solar equipment and energy storage have declined the systems that leverage those components have become more accessible to a broader swath of the global population.

That timing is part of what has enabled SunCulture to succeed where other companies have stumbled. “We moved here at a time when [solar] reached grid parity in a lot of markets. It was at a time when a lot of development financiers were funding the nexus between agriculture and energy,” said Ibrahim.

Initially, the company sold its integrated energy generation and water pumping systems to the middle income farmers who hold jobs in cities like Nairobi and cultivate crops on land they own in rural areas. These “telephone farmers” were willing to spend the $5000 required to install SunCulture’s initial systems.

Now, the cost of a system is somewhere between $500 and $1000 and is more accessible for the 570 million farming households across the word — with the company’s “pay-as-you-grow” model.

It’s a spin on what’s become a popular business model for the distribution of solar systems of all types across Africa. Investors have poured nearly $1 billion into the development of off-grid solar energy and retail technology companies like M-kopa, Greenlight Planet, d.light design, ZOLA Electric, and SolarHome, according to Ibrahim. In some ways, SunCulture just extends that model to agricultural applications.

“We have had to bundle services and financing. The reason this particularly works is because our customers are increasing their incomes four or five times,” said Ibrahim. “Most of the money has been going to consuming power. This is the first time there has been productive power.”

 SunCulture’s hardware consists of 300 watt solar panels and a 440 watt-hour battery system. The batteries can support up to four lights, two phones and a plug-in submersible water pump. 

The company’s best selling product line can support irrigation for a two-and-a-half acre farm, Ibrahim said. “We see ourselves as an entry point for other types of appliances. We’re growing to be the largest solar company for Africa.”

With the $14 million in funding, from investors including Energy Access Ventures (EAV), Électricité de France (EDF), Acumen Capital Partners (ACP), and Dream Project Incubators (DPI), SunCulture will expand its footprint in Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, Zambia, Senegal, Togo, and Cote D’Ivoire, the company said. 

Ekta Partners acted as the financial advisor for the deal, while CrossBoundary provided additional advisory support, including an analysis on the market opportunity and competitive landscape, under the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Kenya Investment Mechanism Program

#africa, #agriculture, #alternative-energy, #articles, #co-founder, #east-africa, #economist, #electricity, #energy, #ethiopia, #financial-advisor, #food, #food-supply, #food-waste, #kenya, #nairobi, #new-york, #new-york-university, #renewable-energy, #senegal, #solar-energy, #solar-power, #tanzania, #tc, #uganda, #united-nations, #united-states

0

Astanor Ventures launches $325M Impact Fund aimed at FoodTech and AgTech startups

We can all, by now, ascribe to the idea that something has changed in the last few months. Like it or not, business is not as it was. If we were true to ourselves, we would admit that our lives will never be the name again. But parallel to this visceral feeling, is the quite clear and objective truth that the planet that sustains our existence is in trouble. So, surely, is it not beholden upon us to step up? Is this both a moral and a commercial opportunity?

Today Astanor Ventures is launching a $325m ‘Global Impact fund’ concentrating on food and agriculture technology. These are two of the most pressing areas in the climate debate,  The aim is to deploy funds across Europe and North America.

Astanor‘s fund is a multi-stage tech investor that unites both knowledge and experience of scaling new technology companies with food, cross-sector expertise and agriculture.

Speaking to TechCrunch, Eric Archambeau, co-founder and partner of Astanor Ventures said: “There is now an urgent need for an impact investor like Astanor which is using tech and capital to bring about a revolution in food and farming.”

Archambeau told TechCrunch that the fund will rigorously apply the ideas behind the UN’s seventeen SDGs to ints investments.

“There is a new generation coming on board at LPs and family offices today and new funds understand the imperative this generation now raises. It’s time to stop up and be counted for the future,” said Archambeau.

Within its network, Astanor counts entrepreneurs, impact investors, farmers, chefs, policymakers, food scientists and high-profile sector experts, such as Kathleen Merrigan, Professor in the School of Sustainability and Executive Director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University (an Astanor Venture Partner).

The background opportunities to shift the economy are, by now, obvious. Multiple studies show there are booming greenhouse gas emissions and some 70% of the world’s freshwater resources are consumed by agriculture. The earth’s soil is degrading (fertile soil is being lost at rate of 24bn tonnes a year. Food waste is a huge issue and some 40% of food goes to waste); most fruit or vegetable has 15% less nutrients than it did in 1950.

 

Eric Archambeau, Astanor Ventures

Eric Archambeau, Astanor Ventures

Since its founding in 2017, Astanor has invested in more than 20 European and US startups that are working to accelerate regenerative agriculture, innovate food production techniques and farming, as well as promote food culture and the enjoyment of food.

Portfolio companies include French insect farming pioneer Ϋnsect, in which Astanor is the lead investor; Infarm, the Berlin -based on-demand vertical farming company; La Ruche Qui dit Oui, a French farm to table supplier; and Notpla, a UK-based company seeking to eliminate plastics by creating a highly functional packaging material from seaweed. California food waste reduction company Apee created plant-based protection for fresh fruit and vegetables, allowing produce to stay fresh twice as long as without it.

#agriculture, #arizona-state-university, #articles, #astanor-ventures, #berlin, #california, #europe, #food, #food-and-drink, #food-waste, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #infarm, #la-ruche-qui-dit-oui, #north-america, #plastics, #sustainability, #tc, #technology, #united-nations, #united-states, #waste

0

Apeel gets more cash to fight poverty and food insecurity in emerging markets with its food-preserving tech

In the first real test of the potentially transformative power of its food-preserving technology, the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Apeel Sciences is bringing its innovative food treatment and supply chain management services to distribution centers in select markets in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The goal is to alleviate food insecurity among farmers, who comprise one of the most susceptible populations to issues of malnutrition, according to Apeel’s chief executive James Rogers.

“The majority of fruits and vegetables grown on this planet are grown by small farmers and two thirds of the people who are food insecure are also farmers,” said Rogers. 

The reason why farmers are more at-risk than other populations stems from their inability to get the most value out of their crops, because of the threat of spoilage, Rogers said

By introducing its preservative technologies that deter spoilage and providing willing buyers among existing Apeel customers in markets like the U.S., Denmark, Germany and Switzerland Rogers said the company can have an outsized impact to improve the amount of money going into a farmer’s pocket.

“The program with the IFC is to build supply chains out,” he said. “The value is not just in the longer-lasting produce, it’s in the market access for that longer lasting produce.”

The initial markets will be in Mexico, Costa Rica, Peru, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam where Appeal’s tech will treat avocados, pineapples, asparagus, and citrus fruits like lemons, limes, and oranges.

In some ways it’s the culmination of the work that Appeal has been doing for the past several years, getting grocers around the world to buy into its approach to reducing waste.

The company has always put smallholder farmers at the center of its company mission — ever since Appeal was founded in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Department for International Development. The intention was always to extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables produced by farmers without access to the modern refrigerated supply chain. It’s just that for the past several years, the company had to refine its technology and build out a retail network.

To further that aim, Apeel has raised over $360 million, including a $250 million round of funding which closed earlier this year.

The fruition of Rogers’ plans will be as the company brings demand from international markets to these local growers through regional exporters.

Without access to a refrigerated supply chain, much of what small farmers produce can only reach local markets where supply exceeds demand. The perishability of crops creates market conditions where these fruits and vegetables can’t make it to export, creating market dynamics that exacerbate poverty and increase food loss and food waste among the people who make their living farming, Appeal said.

“With extra time we can link those small producers into the global food system and help them collect the economic value that’s intrinsic to that natural resource,” said Rogers. 

The introduction of new demand from international markets, which can be fulfilled if crops are treated with Appeal’s technology can create a virtuous cycle that will ideally increase prices for crops and bring bigger payouts to farmers. At least that’s the vision that Rogers has for the latest implementations of Appeal’s technology at regional distribution hubs.

There’s the potential that the middle men who’re distributing the produce to foreign buyers may collect most of the value from the introduction of Appeal’s technology, but Rogers dismisses that scenario.

“The work is to incorporate those small producers more directly into the supply chain of the exporter. Now that there’s familiarity with the technology you can utilize the tech to create cooperative value and use those cooperatives to unlock value for the very small producers,” he said. “By growing the demand for produce in those markets that supply has to come from somewhere. The exporters earn their cut on a volume basis. The way they increase their value is to grow their volume. They want to grow the volume that’s suitable for export and the demand. Then the challenge flips and it becomes not a demand challenge but a supply challenge. And they have to incentivize people to feed into that supply.” 

To finance this international rollout, Appeal has raised another $30 million in funding from investors including the International Finance Corp., Temasek and Astanor Ventures .

“Innovative technologies can change the course of development in emerging markets and save livelihoods, economies, and in this case, food,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, interim Managing Director and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer, of IFC, in a statement. “We are excited to partner with Apeel to invest in a game-changing technology that can limit food waste by half, enhance sustainability, and mitigate climate change.”

#agriculture, #apeel-sciences, #articles, #astanor-ventures, #bill-melinda-gates-foundation, #denmark, #distribution, #food-waste, #kenya, #latin-america, #marketplace, #tc, #temasek, #uganda, #united-states

0

Alphabet’s latest moonshot is a field-roving, plant-inspecting robo-buggy

Alphabet (you know… Google) has taken the wraps off the latest “moonshot” from its X labs: A robotic buggy that cruises over crops, inspecting each plant individually and, perhaps, generating the kind of “big data” that agriculture needs to keep up with the demands of a hungry world.

Mineral is the name of the project, and there’s no hidden meaning there. The team just thinks minerals are really important to agriculture.

Announced with little fanfare in a blog post and site, Mineral is still very much in the experimental phase. It was born when the team saw that efforts to digitize agriculture had not found as much success as expected at a time when sustainable food production is growing in importance every year.

“These new streams of data are either overwhelming or don’t measure up to the complexity of agriculture, so they defer back to things like tradition, instinct or habit,” writes Mineral head Elliott Grant. What’s needed is something both more comprehensive and more accessible.

Much as Google originally began with the idea of indexing the entire web and organizing that information, Grant and the team imagined what might be possible if every plant in a field were to be measured and adjusted for individually.

A robotic plant inspector from Mineral.

Image Credits: Mineral

The way to do this, they decided, was the “Plant buggy,” a machine that can intelligently and indefatigably navigate fields and do those tedious and repetitive inspections without pause. With reliable data at a plant-to-plant scale, growers can initiate solutions at that scale as well — a dollop of fertilizer here, a spritz of a very specific insecticide there.

They’re not the first to think so. FarmWise raised quite a bit of money last year to expand from autonomous weed-pulling to a full-featured plant intelligence platform.

As with previous X projects at the outset, there’s a lot of talk about what could happen in the future, and how they got where they are, but rather little when it comes to “our robo-buggy lowered waste on a hundred acres of soy by 10 percent” and such like concrete information. No doubt we’ll hear more as the project digs in.

#agriculture, #alphabet, #artificial-intelligence, #farming, #farmwise, #google, #google-x, #greentech, #hardware, #robotics

0

UrbanKisaan is betting on vertical farming to bring pesticide-free vegetables to consumers and fight India’s water crisis

Severe droughts have drained rivers and reservoirs across parts of India, and more than half a billion people in the world’s second-most populous nation are estimated to run out of drinking water by 2030.

Signs of this are apparent in farms, which consume the vast majority of total water supplies. Farmers have been struggling in India to grow crops, as they are still heavily reliant on rainwater. Those with means have shifted to grow crops such as pearl millet, cow peas, bottle gourd and corn — essentially anything but rice — that use a fraction of the water. But most don’t have this luxury.

If that wasn’t enough, Indian cities are facing another challenge: The level of harmful chemicals used in vegetables has gone up significantly over the years.

A Hyderabad-headquartered startup, which is competing in the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battlefield this week, thinks it has found a way to address both of these challenges.

Across many of its centres in Hyderabad and Bangalore that look like spaceships from the inside, UrbanKisaan is growing crops, stacked one on top of another.

Vertical farming, a concept that has gained momentum in some Western markets, is still very new in India.

The model brings with it a range of benefits. Vihari Kanukollu, the co-founder and chief executive of UrbanKisaan, told TechCrunch in an interview that the startup does not use any soil or harmful chemicals to grow crops and uses 95% less water compared to traditional farms.

“We have built a hydroponic system that allows water to keep flowing and get recycled again and again,” he said. Despite using less water, UrbanKisaan says it produces 30% more crops. “We grow to at least 30-40 feet of height. And it has an infinite loop there,” he said.

Kanukollu, 26, said that unlike other vertical farming models, which only grow lettuce and basil, UrbanKisaan has devised technology to grow over 50 varieties of vegetables.

The bigger challenge for UrbanKisaan was just convincing businesses like restaurant chains to buy from it. “Despite us offering much healthier vegetables, businesses still prefer to go with traditionally grown crops and save a few bucks,” he said.

So to counter it, UrbanKisaan sells directly to consumers. Visitors can check in to centres of UrbanKisaan in Hyderabad and Bangalore and buy a range of vegetables.

The startup, backed by Y Combinator and recently by popular South Indian actress Samantha Akkineni, also sells kits for about $200 that anyone can buy and grow vegetables in their own home.

Kanukollu, who has a background in commerce, started to explore the idea about UrbanKisaan in 2018 after being frustrated with not being able to buy fresh, pesticide-free vegetables for his mother, he said.

Luckily for him, he found Sairam Palicherla, a scientist who has spent more than two decades studying farming. The duo spent the first year in research and engaging with farmers.

Today, UrbanKisaan has more than 30 farms. All of these farms turned profitable in their first month, said Kanukollu.

“We are currently growing at 110% average month on month in sales and our average bill value has gone up by 10 times in the last 6 months,” he said.

The startup is also working on reaching a point within the next three months to achieve $150,000 in monthly recurring revenue.

The startup has spent the last few quarters further improving its technology stack. Kanukollu said they have cut down on power consumption from the LED lights by 50% and reduced the cost of manufacturing by 60% per tube.

Kanukollu said the startup works with five farmers currently and is working out ways to find a viable model to bring it to every farmer.

It is also developing a centralized intelligence atop convolutional neural networks to achieve real-time detection to find more harvestable produce, and detect deficiencies in the farm.

UrbanKisaan, which has raised about $1.5 million to date, plans to expand to more metro cities in the country in the coming quarters.

#agriculture, #asia, #battlefield, #biotech, #disrupt-2020, #india, #startup-battlefield-at-disrupt-2020, #startups, #techcrunch-disrupt

0

Iron Ox raises $20 million for its robotic farms

Bay Area-based Iron Ox today announced a $20 million Series B. The funding, led by Pathbreaker Venture and family office firms, brings the robotics company’s total funding up to $45 million to date. A number of other investors also took part in the round, including Crosslink Capital, Amplify Partners, ENIAC Ventures, R7 Partners, Tuesday Ventures, At One Ventures and Y Combinator.

Founded in 2015, Iron Ox has become one of the more prominent names in the world of agricultural robotics. In 2018, the company announced its first indoor farm, growing a slew of leafy green vegetables in hydroponic boxes.

Today they announced the addition of a Gilroy, California-based farm with 10,000 square feet of growing area. The location has already begun delivering vegetables to a number of retailers and restaurants across the state, including some big names like Whole Foods and smaller operations like Bianchini’s Market, which operates two locations in California. Today’s plans entail a nation-wide expansion in delivery for next year.

Image Credits: Iron Ox

“We have made it our mission to address food security by developing autonomous greenhouses that grow a variety of local and consistently delicious food for everyone,” co-founder and CEO Brandon Alexander said in a release. “Today, we’re thrilled to announce the successful operation of our Gilroy farm as well as our consumer brand, and our plans to complete additional sunlight-enabled, out-of-state facilities in 2021.”

The appeal of robotic farming is pretty straightforward, addressing labor shortages and supply chain issues. In the era of COVID-19, some of those problems have become even more pressing, with additional concerns surrounding the potential for transmission. It’s no surprise, then, that the company was able to nearly double previous raises in an era when investors are eyeing any and all robotics and automation.

That the company has a proven model makes things all the more appealing.

#agriculture, #farming, #iron-ox, #pathbreaker-ventures, #recent-funding, #robotics, #startups

0

Freshket lands $3 million Series A led by Openspace to streamline Thailand’s food supply chain

Based in Bangkok, Freshket simplifies the process of getting fresh produce from farms to tables. Launched in 2017, the startup has now raised a $3 million Series A, led by Openspace Ventures.

Other participants included Thai private equity firm ECG-Research; Innospace; and Pamitra Wineka and Ivan Sustiawan, the co-founders of Indonesian agriculture technology startup TaniHub. French-Singaporean food conglomerate Denis Asia Pacific and Thai family office Seedersclub, who made previous investments in Freshket, also returned for the Series A.

Freshket’s technology includes an e-commerce marketplace that connects farmers and food processors to businesses, like restaurants, and consumers in Thailand. The startup was co-founded by chief executive Ponglada Paniangwet and chief marketing officer Tuangploi Chiwalaksanangkoon, who each worked in marketing before launching Freshket three years ago.

Paniangwet told TechCrunch she wanted to enter agritech because her family has worked in the agriculture business for 25 years. “I grew up learning a lot about what worked and didn’t work in the industry,” Paniangwet said. “Overall, the industry is tedious, messy and highly manual.”

Freshket’s goal is to become “an enabler for the entire food supply chain,” she added.

Before Freshket, Paniangwet started a processing center, which sources, cuts and trims fresh produce at wholesale fresh markets before delivering them to restaurants and other customers. She realized technology could be used to simplify the supply chain, increasing farmers’ incomes and the quality of produce received by customers.

There is also ample market opportunity. According to an April 2019 Euromonitor International report, the food service market in Thailand is worth over $7.7 billion in annual purchases, made by more than 200,000 restaurants (link in Thai).

Chiwalaksanangkoon, who was already good friends with Paniangwet, left her position at one of Thailand’s largest banks to co-found Freshket. The company’s platform pull together Thailand’s fragmented produce supply chain by bringing together processing centers and suppliers, and connecting them directly with farmers, who usually rely on middlemen. Freshket also provides its users with data to help them predict supply and demand for their crops.

The expenses of operating a delivery business, especially for perishable goods, can be very high. To stay cost-efficient, Freshket itself doesn’t stock fresh produce. Instead, Freshket tells its network, including farmers, how much product they will need to provide on a daily basis, so they can plan their supply chains.

Paniangwet also said the B2B food delivery business has high average order values, fortifying its unit economics. Freshket’s order, warehouse and logistics management systems are all linked together and “because of that, we are able to control the flow of goods, limit additional and labor costs and keep our overall cost base manageable,” she said.

Freshket’s main rivals in the B2B space are traditional supply chain businesses; in the consumer space, it is up against include grocery delivery startups. It competes with delivery apps by offering lower retail prices, since Freshket is already tapped into a streamlined supply chain. For B2B customers, Freshket’s selling points include more precise delivery, a wider variety of products and produce gradings.

Freshket’s new funding will be used to upgrade its supply management technology. In the future, Paniangwet said the company plans to add more services, like financing, demand forecasting and price matching.

Freshket is among several startups in Southeast Asia markets focused on streamlining the food supply chain in different countries. Others include TaniHub and Eden Farm in Indonesia, Agribuddy in Cambodia and Singapore-based Glife.

This is the third agritech investment Openspace Ventures, which focuses on early-stage companies in Southeast Asia, has made (the other are TaniHub and Singaporean grocery platform RedMart).

In a press statement about the investment, Openspace Ventures founding partner Hian Goh said, “As Openspace Ventures’ second investment in Thailand this year, Freshket reflects our growing conviction in the potential of the Thai market for high quality and innovative startups.”

#agriculture, #agritech, #asia, #farmers, #food, #freshket, #fundings-exits, #openspace-ventures, #southeast-asia, #startups, #supply-chain, #tc, #thailand

0

Pinduoduo’s latest aim: sell $145 billion farm produce in 2025

Still working to turn a profit and shake off its fake-goods reputation, China’s e-commerce upstart Pinduoduo set itself another ambitious goal for 2025: surpass 1 trillion yuan or $145 billion annual gross merchandise volume of agricultural products.

The announcement arrived with the company’s Q2 results last Friday. For some context, online sales of agricultural goods in China in 2019 neared 400 billion yuan or $58 billion, a 27% increase from the year before according to stats from the Ministry of Commerce.

It’s important to note that GMV totals the dollar value of merchandise sold through a platform without factoring in discounts, refunds, returns, and so forth, so it’s not accepted as a standard accounting term for measuring revenues. The term is, however, useful for gauging the transaction size of a budding company like Pinduoduo that is still operating in the red.

The key message here is that Pinduoduo wants to lead the digitization of China’s agricultural sector. Just 2.5% of China’s agricultural goods were distributed online last year, with over half through traditional wet markets and about a third through supermarkets, said a report from research firm iiMedia.

Pinduoduo launched in 2015 as a group-buying service for fruits and has since grown into an all-purpose e-commerce service rivaling Alibaba and JD.com. Fruits and vegetables remain a key category, as over 240 million or 38% of its annual active users bought farm produce via its marketplace in 2019.

Pinduoduo believes its ‘pin’ or ‘group-buying’ approach can help standardize growing practices and bring economies of scale to small farms. Compared to countries like the U.S. where industrial farming prevails, China is dominated by small farms, for it has far less arable land per capita. As its newly appointed CEO Chen Lei said on the earnings call:

“We combine consumer demand on our platform [to] create scale, and we can leverage consumer insights we gain to help farmers make more informed decisions across planting cycles, including what to plant and when to harvest.”

Pinduoduo’s annual report dived into more details:

“We find ‘pin’ an effective solution to aggregate consumer demand, match them with batches of agricultural produce, and mobilize China’s well-penetrated and affordable logistics capability to have perishable and fresh produce shipped directly from farms to users and bypass multiple layers of distribution. This not only enhances user experience, but more importantly, helps to turn small scale agriculture production of different quality, variety, and volume into a semicustomized batch processing mechanism. It lowers the unnecessary costs of agricultural consumption and potentially makes small scale customized services viable.”

The firm’s farming push also includes bringing agricultural experts to train farmers and investing in precision-farming technologies like robots, IoT sensors, and low-powered data transmission.

Pinduoduo’s rise hs no doubt unnerved its rivals. The upstart logged 683 million annual active buyers in the year ended this June. For comparison, Alibaba claimed 742 million China-based active consumers in the year ended March, and JD.com racked up 417 million in the year ended August.

But Pinduoduo still lags far behind the others in per-customer spending. Using annual GMV and active buyer figures, our calculation shows that JD.com recorded roughly 5,760 yuan ($833) GMV per consumer, while the average was about 8,447 yuan for Alibaba (in China) and 1,127 yuan for Pinduoduo. Produce in China has notoriously thin profit margins, so the challenge for Pinduoduo is how to achieve a healthy bottom line as it works towards its dream to transform China’s agricultural industry.

#agriculture, #asia, #china, #ecommerce, #farming, #pinduoduo

0

Agtech startup iFarm bags $4M to help vertical farms grow more tasty stuff

Vertical farming technology provider iFarm has bagged a $4 million seed round, led by Gagarin Capital, an earlier investor in the startup. Other investors in the round include Matrix Capital, Impulse VC, IMI.VC and several business angels.

The Finnish startup is focused on providing software that enables others to carry out vertical farming — targeting sales at food processing companies and FMCG giants, as well as farmers, university research centers and even large corporates with their own catering needs, as a result of operating large physical office footprints.

Its software as a service platform automates crop care for plants such as salad greens, cherry tomatoes and berries grown in vertical stacks. The system involves a range of technologies to monitor and automate crop care, applying computer vision and machine learning and drawing on data on “thousands” of plants collected from a distributed network of farms, per iFarm .

At this stage it’s providing technology to around 50 projects in Europe and the Middle — covering a total of 11,000square-meters of farm. Its platform is currently able to automate care for around 120 varieties of plants, with the goal of getting to 500 by 2025 (it says ten new crop varieties are being added each month).

“iFarm started three years ago, with three founders. The goal is to build technology… for growing tasty and healthy food that we already eat,” says co-founder and CBDO Max Chizhov, who notes the business has grown to 15 employees along the way.

“We started from a greenhouse. First year just looking for technologies — which kind of technologies to use. After one year of experiments we have some pilots and now we are focused on indoor farming, vertical farming.”

Vertical farming is an urban farming technique that involves stacking plants in dense layers in a highly controlled indoor environment, using LED lighting to replace sunlight to power all-year-round agriculture.

iFarm notes that the fully automated approach also means there’s no need for pesticides to grow a range of edible greens, herbs, fruits, flowers and vegetables. There are some natural limits on what can be grown within such systems — taller plants and trees obviously can’t be squeezed into stacks. Deep root vegetables also aren’t suitable, although iFarm touts baby carrots among its product portfolio.

“We focus on profitable products,” says Chizhov. “Small crops, very fast growing crops, and easy to irrigate and easy to grow in many layers. Many layers is the advantage of indoor farms.”

Photo credit: iFarm

While there are now hundreds of vertical farming startups whose business model is fixed on selling the edible produce they grow, such as to supply supermarkets and other food retailers, iFarm is purely focused on developing technologies to support automated indoor agriculture.

o it might, for instance, be eyeing the likes of Infarm, Bowery and Plenty as potential customers for its vertical farming optimization technologies.

It says its systems can be applied to vertical farms of 20 to 20,000 square meters, supporting scalability.

“Our main advantage is we know how to grow and you don’t need any special technologies to know how to grow. All of our algorithms, all of the data, is based in our software,” says Chizhov, emphasizing the software is hardware agnostic — meaning customers don’t need to use iFarm’s kit for their vertical farms but just can apply its algorithms to their own set-ups.

iFarm has designed various bits of vertical farm hardware it can supply, or co-develop with customers, per Chizhov, such as fertilizer units and LED lighting. But the software as a service platform isn’t locked to any specific piece of kit.

“The main thing is the software that combines optimization systems like humidity, temperature, CO2 etc; and some business separations — like why, how, when we start growing, which clients,” he says, adding: “It’s like a CRM plus an ERP system that controls all the parameters.

“In this system we use computer vision systems. We use AI for increasing taste [of the edible produce], increasing yield parameters of our growing crops. We also use drones which fly in our farms and observe all of our greens and all of our plants. We optimize all of the processes in the farm using software and some [pieces of hardware] that use the software.”

Chizhov says the seed funding will be used to gradually expand the business into new regions — with a launch into the US market on the cards in two years’ time — but the main priority now is to spend on further software development.

“The main goal is [adding] new type of crops,” he notes. “Research, development, new products.”

On the competitive front, iFarm is not the only technology provider seeking to sell to the burgeoning vertical farming sector. Chizhov says there are around ten to 15 similar agtech startups. But he contends its tech and approach has the edge over the likes of UK-based Intelligent Growth Solutions, Belgium’s Urban Crop Solutions, Switzerland’s Growcer, US ‘container farms’ provider Freight Farms, or China’s Alesca Life, to name-check a handful of other players in the space.

“There are some companies in this market that also provide solutions but with less optimization, with less software value and with less product mix/product line,” he argues. “The main difference is the type of crops; it’s software that we provide for our clients — because you don’t need to know how to grow; you don’t need to be a specialist in your company you just push a button. And we provide excellent services for our clients. Design, installation, operation, help to sell the final product etc.”

Chizhov also notes iFarm has filed patents to protect some of its technologies.

Photo credit: iFarm

Mikhail Taver, GP of Gagarin Capital, who is the lead investor in iFarm’s seed round, says the startup stood out on account of having a competitive advantage in the sector. Although he also notes that the fund’s agtech strategy is focused on indoor farming rather than mainstream outdoors — which again makes iFarm a good fit.

“We do see a large potential in the sector with the [world’s] rising population. We see the increasing demand for food — it’s only going to continue. We see global warming and general sustainability issues. And iFarm seems to be able to solve most of those,” Taver told TechCrunch.

“I don’t really see much competitors able to grow things other than greens,” he added, elaborating on the competitive edge claim. “You don’t normally get proper tomatoes or edible flowers and things like that grown in vertical farms. They mainly concentrate on a couple of salads at most.

“Plus most of our competitors they focus on competing with actual farmers, whereas we’re trying to augment them. We don’t try to force them off the market — we’re trying to help them get bigger. Which is a totally different approach and it should be working better. At least that’s what I believe.”

#agriculture, #agtech, #artificial-intelligence, #drones, #emerging-technologies, #europe, #food, #freight-farms, #fundings-exits, #gagarin-capital, #greentech, #ifarm, #machine-learning, #recent-funding, #tc, #urban-agriculture, #vertical-farming

0

Buildots raises $16M to bring computer vision to construction management

Buildots, a Tel Aviv and London-based startup that is using computer vision to modernize the construction management industry, today announced that it has raised $16 million in total funding. This includes a $3 million seed round that was previously unreported and a $13 million Series A round, both led by TLV Partners. Other investors include Innogy Ventures, Tidhar Construction Group, Ziv Aviram (co-founder of Mobileye & OrCam), Magma Ventures head Zvika Limon, serial entrepreneurs Benny Schnaider and  Avigdor Willenz, as well as Tidhar chairman Gil Geva.

The idea behind Buildots is pretty straightforward. The team is using hardhat-mounted 360-degree cameras to allow project managers at construction sites to get an overview of the state of a project and whether it remains on schedule. The company’s software creates a digital twin of the construction site, using the architectural plans and schedule as its basis, and then uses computer vision to compare what the plans say to the reality that its tools are seeing. With this, Buildots can immediately detect when there’s a power outlet missing in a room or whether there’s a sink that still needs to be installed in a kitchen, for example.

“Buildots have been able to solve a challenge that for many seemed unconquerable, delivering huge potential for changing the way we complete our projects,” said Tidhar’s Geva in a statement. “The combination of an ambitious vision, great team and strong execution abilities quickly led us from being a customer to joining as an investor to take part in their journey.”

The company was co-founded in 2018 by Roy Danon, Aviv Leibovici and Yakir Sundry. Like so many Israeli startups, the founders met during their time in the Israeli Defense Forces, where they graduated from the Talpiot unit.

“At some point, like many of our friends, we had the urge to do something together — to build a company, to start something from scratch,” said Danon, the company’s CEO. “For us, we like getting our hands dirty. We saw most of our friends going into the most standard industries like cloud and cyber and storage and things that obviously people like us feel more comfortable in, but for some reason we had like a bug that said, ‘we want to do something that is a bit harder, that has a bigger impact on the world.’ ”

So the team started looking into how it could bring technology to traditional industries like agriculture, finance and medicine, but then settled upon construction thanks to a chance meeting with a construction company. For the first six months, the team mostly did research in both Israel and London to understand where it could provide value.

Danon argues that the construction industry is essentially a manufacturing industry, but with very outdated control and process management systems that still often relies on Excel to track progress.

Image Credits: Buildots

Construction sites obviously pose their own problems. There’s often no Wi-Fi, for example, so contractors generally still have to upload their videos manually to Buildots’ servers. They are also three dimensional, so the team had to develop systems to understand on what floor a video was taken, for example, and for large indoor spaces, GPS won’t work either.

The teams tells me that before the COVID-19 lockdowns, it was mostly focused on Israel and the U.K., but the pandemic actually accelerated its push into other geographies. It just started work on a large project in Poland and is scheduled to work on another one in Japan next month.

Because the construction industry is very project-driven, sales often start with getting one project manager on board. That project manager also usually owns the budget for the project, so they can often also sign the check, Danon noted. And once that works out, then the general contractor often wants to talk to the company about a larger enterprise deal.

As for the funding, the company’s Series A round came together just before the lockdowns started. The company managed to bring together an interesting mix of investors from both the construction and technology industries.

Now, the plan is to scale the company, which currently has 35 employees, and figure out even more ways to use the data the service collects and make it useful for its users. “We have a long journey to turn all the data we have into supporting all the workflows on a construction site,” said Danon. “There are so many more things to do and so many more roles to support.”

Image Credits: Buildots

#agriculture, #avigdor-willenz, #buildots, #cloud, #construction-site, #cyber, #enterprise, #finance, #fundings-exits, #gps, #israel, #japan, #london, #magma-ventures, #medicine, #mergers-and-acquisitions, #mobileye, #poland, #recent-funding, #science-and-technology, #startups, #technology, #tel-aviv, #tlv-partners, #united-kingdom

0

CMU demonstrates nanoscale technology that causes plants to absorb nutrients with nearly 100% efficiency

Spraying plants with fertilizers and pesticides is typically a highly lossy affair – as little as 1% of the substances currently used in industrial and food production farming is actually taken up by the plant, while the rest leaches off into the soil. A new technology demonstrated for the first time by Carnegie Mellon University’s Greg Lowry and his team reverses that – cause a plant to absorb molecules with up to 99 percent efficiency, meaning only 1 percent is wasted.

There are efficiency improvements, and then there are technology demonstrations that could completely upend current methods of doing things – like this one. Lowry’s research, which has been demonstrated as outlined in a peer-review publication now available in Nanoscale Communications, makes use of nanoparticles to coat molecular substances that you would want to be absorbed by a plant. These could include nutrients designed to optimize growth and crop yields, for instance, or pesticides that could protect them from destructive bugs and infestations.

We covered this work last year, when it was still just at the pre-demonstration stage – now, Lowry’s team has shown that you can indeed engineer nanoparticles specifically to target pores on the surface of a leaf. Essentially, it’s like custom creating lego blocks for receptors on the leaf’s surface and then tying the nutrients you want to deliver to those custom lego blocks for a perfect fit.

This demonstration bears out the team’s hypothesis, which sets the stage for potential further development and, eventually, commercial application. The biggest potential commercial use of this technology could be in pesticides, since it’s estimated that as much as 40 percent of potential crop yield is still lost to plant disease that’s preventable with effective use of pesticides that can block them from entering through pores on leaves. They could also improve absorption of plant food and fertilizer designed to stimulate growth, and potentially these two uses could be combined into a single ‘dose’ of nanoparticles that can do double duty, with great potential to increase plant and crop output.

#agriculture, #articles, #biotech, #carnegie-mellon-university, #engineer, #materials, #nature, #science, #tc

0

BeeHero smartens up hives to provide ‘pollination as a service’ with $4M seed round

Vast monoculture farms outstripped the ability of bee populations to pollinate them naturally long ago, but the techniques that have arisen to fill that gap are neither precise nor modern. Israeli startup BeeHero aims to change that by treating hives both as living things and IoT devices, tracking health and pollination progress practically in real time. It just raised a $4 million seed round that should help expand its operations into U.S. agriculture.

Honeybees are used around the world to pollinate crops, and there has been growing demand for beekeepers who can provide lots of hives on short notice and move them wherever they need to be. But the process has been hamstrung by the threat of colony collapse, an increasingly common end to hives, often as the result of mite infestation.

Hives must be deployed and checked manually and regularly, entailing a great deal of labor by the beekeepers — it’s not something just anyone can do. They can only cover so much land over a given period, meaning a hive may go weeks between inspections — during which time it could have succumbed to colony collapse, perhaps dooming the acres it was intended to pollinate to a poor yield. It’s costly, time-consuming, and decidedly last-century.

So what’s the solution? As in so many other industries, it’s the so-called Internet of Things. But the way CEO and founder Omer Davidi explains it, it makes a lot of sense.

“This is a math game, a probabilistic game,” he said. “We’ve modeled the problem, and the main factors that affect it are, one, how do you get more efficient bees into the field, and two, what is the most efficient way to deploy them? ”

Normally this would be determined ahead of time and monitored with the aforementioned manual checks. But off-the-shelf sensors can provide a window into the behavior and condition of a hive, monitoring both health and efficiency. You might say it puts the API in apiculture.

“We collect temperature, humidity, sound, there’s an accelerometer. For pollination, we use pollen traps and computer vision to check the amount of pollen brought to the colony,” he said. “We combine this with microclimate stuff and other info, and the behaviors and patterns we see inside the hives correlate with other things. The stress level of the queen, for instance. We’ve tested this on thousands of hives; it’s almost like the bees are telling us, ‘we have a queen problem.’ ”

All this information goes straight to an online dashboard where trends can be assessed, dangerous conditions identified early, and plans made for things like replacing or shifting less or more efficient hives.

The company claims that its readings are within a few percentage points of ground truth measurements made by beekeepers, but of course it can be done instantly and from home, saving everyone a lot of time, hassle, and cost.

The results of better hive deployment and monitoring can be quite remarkable, though Davidi was quick to add that his company is building on a growing foundation of work in this increasingly important domain.

“We didn’t invent this process, it’s been researched for years by people much smarter than us. But we’ve seen increases in yield of 30-35 percent in soybeans, 70-100 percent in apples and cashews in South America,” he said. It may boggle the mind that such immense improvements can come from just better bee management, but the case studies they’ve run have borne it out. Even “self-pollinating” (i.e. by the wind or other measures) crops that don’t need pollinators show serious improvements.

The platform is more than a growth aid and labor saver. Colony collapse is killing honeybees at enormous rates, but if it can be detected early, it can be mitigated and the hive potentially saved. That’s hard to do when time from infection to collapse is a matter of days and you’re inspecting biweekly. BeeHero’s metrics can give early warning of mite infestations, giving beekeepers a head start on keeping their hives alive.

“We’ve seen cases where you can lower mortality by 20-25 percent,” said Davidi. “It’s good for the farmer to improve pollination, and it’s good for the beekeeper to lose less hives.”

That’s part of the company’s aim to provide value up and down the chain, not just a tool for beekeepers to check the temperatures of their hives. “Helping the bees is good, but it doesn’t solve the whole problem. You want to help whole operations,” Davidi said. The aim is “to provide insights rather than raw data: whether the queen is in danger, if the quality of the pollination is different.”

Other startups have similar ideas, but Davidi noted that they’re generally working on a smaller scale, some focused on hobbyists who want to monitor honey production, or small businesses looking to monitor a few dozen hives versus his company’s nearly twenty thousand. BeeHero aims for scale both with robust but off-the-shelf hardware to keep costs low, and by focusing on an increasingly tech-savvy agriculture sector here in the States.

“The reason we’re focused on the U.S. is the adoption of precision agriculture is very high in this market, and I must say it’s a huge market,” Davidi said. “80 percent of the world’s almonds are grown in California, so you have a small area where you can have a big impact.”

The $4M seed round’s investors include Rabo Food and Agri Innovation Fund, UpWest, iAngels, Plug and Play, and J-Ventures.

BeeHero is still very much also working on R&D, exploring other crops, improved metrics, and partnerships with universities to use the hive data in academic studies. Expect to hear more as the market grows and the need for smart bee management starts sounding a little less weird and a lot more like a necessity for modern agriculture.

#agriculture, #apiculture, #beehero, #bees, #funding, #fundings-exits, #gadgets, #greentech, #hardware, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

0

Kenya’s Apollo Agriculture raises $6M Series A led by Anthemis

Apollo Agriculture believes it can attain profits by helping Kenya’s smallholder farmers maximize theirs.

That’s the mission of the Nairobi based startup that raised $6 million in Series A funding led by Anthemis.

Founded in 2016, Apollo Agriculture offers a mobile based product suit for farmers that includes working capital, data analysis for higher crop yields, and options to purchase key inputs and equipment.

“It’s everything a farmer needs to succeed. It’s the seeds and fertilizer they need to plant, the advice they need to manage that product over the course of the season. The insurance they need to protect themselves in case of a bad year…and then ultimately, the financing,” Apollo Agriculture CEO Eli Pollak told TechCrunch on a call.

Apollo’s addressable market includes the many smallholder farmers across Kenya’s population of 53 million. The problem it’s helping them solve is a lack of access to the tech and resources to achieve better results on their plots.

The startup has engineered its own app, platform and outreach program to connect with Kenya’s farmers. Apollo uses M-Pesa mobile money, machine learning and satellite data to guide the credit and products it offers them.

The company — which was a TechCrunch Startup Battlefield Africa 2018 finalist — has served over 40,000 farmers since inception, with 25,000 of those paying relationships coming in 2020, according to Pollak.

Apollo Agriculture Start

Apollo Agriculture co-founders Benjamin Njenga and Eli Pollack

Apollo Agriculture generates revenues on the sale of farm products and earning margins on financing. “The farm pays a fixed price for the package, which comes due at harvest…that includes everything and there’s no hidden fees,” said Pollak.

On deploying the $6 million in Series A financing, “It’s really about continuing to invest in growth. We feel like we’ve got a great product. We’ve got great reviews by customers and want to just keep scaling it,” he said. That means hiring, investing in Apollo’s tech, and growing the startup’s sales and marketing efforts.

“Number two is really strengthening our balance sheet to be able to continue raising the working capital that we need to lend to customers,” Pollak said.

For the moment, expansion in Africa beyond Kenya is in the cards but not in the near-term. “That’s absolutely on the roadmap,” said Pollak. “But like all businesses, everything is a bit in flux right now. So some of our plans for immediate expansion are on a temporary pause as we wait to see things shake out with with COVID.”

Apollo Agriculture’s drive to boost the output and earnings of Africa’s smallholder farmers is born out of the common interests of its co-founders.

Pollak is an American who who studied engineering at Stanford University and went to work in agronomy in the U.S. with The Climate Corporation. “That was how I got excited about Apollo. I would look at other markets and say “wow, they’re farming 20% more acres of maize, or corn across Africa but farmers are producing dramatically less than U.S. farmers,” said Pollak.

Pollak’s colleague, Benjamin Njenga, found inspiration in his experience in his upbringing. “I grew up on a farm in a Kenyan village. My mother, a smallholder farmer, used to plant with low quality seeds and no fertilizer and harvested only five bags per acre each year,” he told the audience at Startup Battlefield in Africa in Lagos in 2018.

Image Credits: Apollo Agriculture

“We knew if she’d used fertilizer and hybrid seeds her production would double, making it easier to pay my school fees.” Njenga went on to explain that she couldn’t access the credit to buy those tools, which prompted the motivation for Apollo Agriculture.

Anthemis Exponential Ventures’ Vica Manos confirmed its lead on Apollo’s latest raise. The UK based VC firm — which invests mostly in the Europe and the U.S. — has also backed South African fintech company Jumo and will continue to consider investments in African startups, Manos told TechCrunch.

Additional investors in Apollo Agriculture’s Series A round included Accion Venture Lab, Leaps by Bayer, and Flourish Ventures.

While agriculture is the leading employer in Africa, it hasn’t attracted the same attention from venture firms or founders as fintech, logistics, or e-commerce. The continent’s agtech startups lagged those sectors in investment, according to Disrupt Africa and WeeTracker’s 2019 funding reports.

Some notable agtech ventures that have gained VC include Nigeria’s Farmcrowdy, Hello Tractor — which has partnered with IBM and Twiga Foods, a Goldman backed B2B agriculture supply chain startup based in Nairobi.

On whether Apollo Agriculture sees Twiga as a competitor, CEO Eli Pollak suggested collaboration. “Twiga could be a company that in the future we could potential partner with,” he said.

“We’re partnering with farmers to produce lots of high quality crops, and they could potentially be a great partner in helping those farmers access stable prices for those…yields.”

#accion-venture-lab, #africa, #agriculture, #agtech, #apollo, #articles, #bayer, #ceo, #e-commerce, #entrepreneurship, #europe, #farmcrowdy, #flourish-ventures, #hello-tractor, #ibm, #kenya, #lagos, #machine-learning, #nairobi, #nigeria, #private-equity, #stanford-university, #startup-battlefield, #startup-battlefield-africa-2018, #startup-company, #tc, #techcrunch, #the-climate-corporation, #twiga-foods, #united-kingdom, #united-states

0

With fresh support from its billionaire backers Pivot Bio is ushering in a farming revolution

In the first decade of the twentieth century two German chemists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, invented fertilizer — the nitrogen compound which ushered in modern agriculture and saved the world from potential starvation.

Now, over a century later, a new group of scientists backed by government-owned international investment funds and some of the world’s wealthiest men and women is trying to save the world from their invention.

In the hundred years since companies began manufacturing fertilizer at an industrial scale, the chemical has become one of the main sources of the pollution that’s choking the planet and putting millions of the lives its use has helped to feed at risk from severe droughts, fires, floods, and storms caused by climate change.

That’s why investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures (the investment fund backed by Mukesh Ambani, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Masayoshi Son) and the Singapore-owned investment fund Temasek along with DCVC; Prelude Ventures; Spruce Capital Partners; Codon Capital; Bunge Ventures; Continental Grain Company; Tekfen Ventures; Pavilion Capital; and individual investors Alan Cohen and Roger Underwood have backed Pivot Bio with a new $100 million investment.

Pivot uses genetically edited microbes to replicate the work that naturally occurring bacteria had done for millions of years to fix nitrogen in the soil, where it could be absorbed through plants’ root structures.

Crops like peas, beans, and soybeans have developed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria in the soil that take nitrogen from the air and convert it into a form that the plants can use. But grains like corn and wheat don’t have a link with any nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so they’re not able to grow as robustly. Some farmers rotate crops between plants that have nitrogen fixing bacteria and those that don’t so the soil can remain nutrient rich.

Using the company’s products, Pivot Bio estimates that farmers can improve yields and remove one gigaton of carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions from the atmosphere. The company also said that it can reduce approximately $4.1. billion in spending on water purification across the U.S. Spending which can be traced back to the water pollution associated with industrial farming and its use of synthetic fertilizers.

Over time, the run off of excess fertilizer from farms can lead to environmental degradation and the poisoning of local and regional water supplies.

Farmers are already using Pivot Bio’s microbes to improve crop yields and reduce fertilizer use for corn crops — with typically gains of 5.8 bushels per acre on fields that used the company’s treatments compared to fields using only synthetic nitrogen, the company said.

“Growers and our planet deserve a better fertilizer – one that balances on-farm economics with the farmer’s commitment to leave the land better for the next generation, and Pivot Bio’s technology helps them do just that,” said Karsten Temme, CEO and co-founder of Pivot Bio.

Pivot will use the money from the new round to expand internationally into Latin America and Canada and begin marketing a new product that it’s introducing into the U.S. market for wheat crops, the company said.

“Pivot Bio’s microbial nitrogen fertilizers are revolutionizing how farmers apply nitrogen to their crops, and we’re excited to continue our investment to support this important mission,” said Carmichael Roberts of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, in a statement. “The company is leading the charge on truly sustainable farming techniques, and we’re confident that they’ll continue to innovate their product offerings to solve this critical climate and societal challenge.”

As Temme notes, the thesis around using microbes in agriculture dates back at least fifty years. However DNA sequencing, machine learning, and gene editing made possible by advances like CRISPR all equate to new abilities for researchers to develop products that can fulfill the promise that microbial soil enrichment promised.

For Pivot Bio, the proof is in the sales. Even as the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 epidemic continues to wreak its havoc on a range of industries, Temme said that Pivot’s sales remain consistent.

Typically when farmers face tough times, they go back to basics and don’t experiment with new, relatively unproven products, Temme said. However, Pivot’s product is already sold out for the season.

“Pivot Bio is addressing one of the most difficult challenges facing agriculture in the 21st century – reducing dependence on damaging synthetic fertilizer while increasing crop yields and creating better outcomes for farmers,” said Matt Ocko, Managing Partner, DCVC, in a statement.

Pivot may be the company that’s managed to get to market first, but they’re far from the only company looking at replacing fertilizer with microbes. In Boston, a joint venture between Gingko Bioworks and Bayer, called Joyn Bio, is developing a microbial-based nitrogen fixing technology of its own.

However, its product has yet to come to market and the company’s planned trials have been delayed by the COVID-19 outbreak, the company said.

“We are following the strict guidelines of our facilities in Boston and Woodland that dramatically reduces the number of employees in our labs and greenhouses, while the remainder of our staff are continuing our efforts from home,” the company wrote in a statement on its website. “We are currently focused on preparing for our 2020 field and greenhouse trials as best we can under these new conditions.”

Meanwhile, Pivot Bio continues to sell.

“Farmer acceptance of our technology and support of our vision is far beyond our expectations,” said Temme, in a statement. “They understand the economics and efficiencies our product offers – more consistent yields, 100 percent nitrogen efficiency with the crop, and a lighter environmental footprint. It’s a triple bottom line for them and our planet.”

#agriculture, #bayer, #bill-gates, #boston, #breakthrough-energy-ventures, #canada, #crispr, #crops, #dcvc, #dna-sequencing, #jeff-bezos, #latin-america, #machine-learning, #managing-partner, #masayoshi-son, #matt-ocko, #mukesh-ambani, #pavilion-capital, #prelude-ventures, #tc, #temasek, #united-states

0