Jan. 10, 2019
“Vertical farming,” “low-impact farming,” and “urban farming,” are just some of the ways to describe the move towards indoor farming using smaller footprints than traditional farming. The folks over at Finistere Ventures put together an awesome market map which listed out 10 startups working on indoor farming (to which we added one extra). Please note that the main focus of this article is on indoor farming platforms that operate on a commercial scale.
Indoor Farming Platforms
Founded in 2014, San Francisco startup Plenty has taken in $226 million in funding so far to develop plant sciences for crops to flourish in a pesticide- and GMO-freeenvironment. While the website contains all sorts of whimsical banter with little about what’s actually being done with this massive chunk of money that was raised, an article by Forbes last summer talks about how they’re poaching talent from Tesla to “create high-yield vertical farms that use a fraction of the energy and water needed for field-grown crops.” The numbers thrown around sound impressive. A 250,000 square foot space that equates to 5 acres because plants are being grown sideways on walls up to 20 feet high with only 1% of the water required to grow compared to traditional farming.
An indoor farming operation at Plenty – Source: Plenty
It’s all about using the latest technologies, which is why they made our list of 9 AgTech Startups Using AI to Grow Smarter. So did this next startup.
Founded in 2015, New Yawk startup Bowery Farming has taken in $117.5 million in funding so far for their high-tech approach to indoor farming that uses robotics, LED lighting, and data analytics to grow leafy greens indoors using 95% less water and with 100X more yield on the same footprint of land that traditional farming requires. Again, it’s all about using technology, and Bowery Farming claiming to have the most technologically sophisticated indoor farming operation in the world. They’ve been selling produce for a few years now, and are now looking to start producing at scale.
Artisanal salads from Bowery – Source: Bowery
In addition to being featured in local restaurants, products like the ones seen above are being sold in Whole Foods at prices that are “comparable to most of the retailer’s other greens.” That’s according to an article by Fast Company that goes on to talk about how the system is automated such that “humans barely need to interact with the growing plants.” It also mentions our next company which is located nearby in New Joisey.
Founded in 2004, New Jersey startup AeroFarms has taken in $138 million in funding so far to develop an aeroponic growing system that can grow produce with neither soil or sun, in any location. We’re only a third of the way through this list of companies, and already the talking points seem to be getting redundant. They use 95% less water, the flavor is better, 390 times more land efficient, 30 crops a season, yada, yada, yada. A few things stood out though, like how they use cloth instead of water to grow plants in, and that every crop generates 130,000 data points. And also, this picture shows quite an impressive grow operation:
One massive indoor farming operation – Source: AeroFarms
If the market for designer salad gets too crowded, maybe they can throw one of those together up north in Canada and start a high-tech cannabis growing operation, eh. Speaking of crowded markets, here’s another startup in the same locale trying to build the next romaine empire.
Founded in 2011, New York-based startup BrightFarms has taken in $113 million in funding so far to “pioneer the future of local, low-impact farming.” They build, own, and operate greenhouse farms that create permanent green-collar jobs and deliver fresh, great-tasting produce to homes across the country. Sensing the fact that the local salad market might be getting a bit crowded, they’ve opened up greenhouses in three other States besides New York. The produce is grown locally, picked at the height of freshness, and delivered to supermarkets within 24 hours. Consequently, the world becomes a better place as a result:
The usual banter about how much better indoor farming is – Source: BrightFarms
We’re not sure there is too much more we can add here, so lettuce move on.
Founded in 2009, Brooklyn startup Gotham Greens has taken in around $30 millionin funding so far to design, build, and operate commercial-scale, technologically-advanced, urban greenhouse facilities located in New York City and Chicago. Their flagship greenhouse, built in 2011, was the first ever commercial-scale greenhouse facility of its kind built in the United States. Measuring over 15,000 square feet, it produces over 100,000 pounds of fresh leafy greens annually.
Lettuce growing on the rooftops – Source: Gotham Greens
For as much salad as they say they grow in those cities, spend some time there and you’ll hardly be convinced that salad constitutes a meaningful portion of anyone’s diet.
Founded in 2015, San Carlos, California startup Iron Ox has taken in $6.1 million in funding so far to develop robotic farms that will churn out better produce, everywhere. We decided to include them on this list when we saw that they’ve been featured in all kinds of media publications with headlines like “the first farm in America run entirely by robots.” Turns out, it’s not fully autonomous but they have certainly taken the use of robotics pretty seriously. That’s according to an article by The Verge which talks about a 1,000-pound robot porter, named Angus, that moves pallets of plants around, and another contraption that moves single plants around using a robotic arm:
Indoor farming + robotics = Iron Ox – Source: Iron Ox
With any of these indoor farming operations we’ve talked about so far, there is some element of automation. The question is, how much cost savings can be realized by removing humans from the equation entirely? These are some serious questions to think about, but maybe not as serious as our next startup.
Founded in 2012, Berlin startup Infarm has taken in $34.1 million in funding so far to develop farming tech for grocery stores, restaurants, and local distribution centers. It’s another take on vertical farming, but since it’s run by zee Germans, they’ve managed to make it even more efficient – by squeezing all the fun out of it.
One serious grow operation – Source: Infarm
According to an article by political commentary site TechCrunch a few years ago, Infarm was the first company in the world to put vertical farming in a supermarket with Metro Group – one of the biggest wholesalers in Europe – and has since seen a big demand from other supermarkets that want to do the same thing. Nothing says fresh like letting customers pick the produce themselves.
Founded in 2015, Paris startup Agricool has taken in $41.4 million in funding so far to grow and produce fruits and vegetables inside shipping containers. Their focus on the moment is strawberries, that’s according to an article by TechCrunch which talks about how you can already buy their strawberries in a couple of shops in Gay Paree. The company plans to use the $28 million in funding they raised last month to launch 100 containers in Paris and Dubai by 2021. When you get to Dubai lads, try not to be too intimidated by what our next startup is building there.
Last but not least, we have Crop One. Founded in 2012, this Silicon Valley startup has taken in $18.3 million in funding so far to develop a market-leading technology platform for indoor growing. They grow in modular boxes and claim to be the largest operator and developer of vertical farms in the world. Their superior technology – they say – allows them to achieve 20% to 60% higher yields per square foot than anyone else in the industry, and at a cost basis that’s 25% that of any other vertical grower. These are some mind-blowing numbers, and it’s all found in the below video which says at the end of this year, their combined output will exceed six tons per day:
One interesting area they’re looking at is growing in remote locations, like offshore oil platforms or extreme environments like Antarctica. They’ve partnered with Emirates Flight Catering to launch a $40 million joint venture to build the world’s largest vertical farming facility in Dubai.
Picks and Shovels for Indoor Farming
Founded in 2005, Austin, Texas startup Illumitex has taken in $83.8 million in funding so far to build beautiful LED lights for industry and architecture as well as groundbreaking LED grow lights for horticulture lighting applications. Think of them as a picks-and-shovels play for indoor farming. “Lighting, very often, is the single most expensive and critical part of a successful Controlled Agriculture Environment (CEA),” says the company which needs to compete with some pretty solid players out there, like the ones we discussed in our past article on Investing in LED Lighting Stocks.
Founded in 2008, Albuquerque, New Mexico startup Growstone has taken in $1.2 million in funding so far to develop a patented manufacturing process that takes waste glass from the landfill and recycles it into customizable products ranging from substrates for advanced hydroponic growing systems to soil amendments to improve soil structure and texture. The process involves crushing the glass bottles into an extremely soft powder, so soft, it feels like flour. That powder is then transformed into various products like this one:
The production facilities are located at landfills so it’s even more green.
It seems like some MBA put together a financial model for an indoor farming operation that looked too good to be true, shared it with every venture capitalist out there, and then everyone started throwing money at pretty much the same idea. It’s basically about using technology to grow stuff you can sell at a premium in local supermarkets and restaurants while saving money on things like transportation costs, pesticides, tractors, and humans. It must be really lucrative because these eleven startups have collectively raised more than $900 million so far. The indoor farming market seems a bit crowded though, so we’ll check back in a few years’ time and see which startups are still growing and which startups have died on the vine.