14 of the Top-funded AgTech Startups
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To say that we’re a little removed from our hunter-gatherer origins would be an understatement. We read in an article that about 7 percent of American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows. It begs the question: Where do these people think strawberry milk comes from? Maybe some sugar junkie rabbit. Further, as The Washington Post also reported in the same article, one in five didn’t know that hamburger comes from beef. Do you think they know where chicken comes from?
So we’re rather amazed how much money has actually made it into agricultural technology, or agtech, in recent years considering the total lack of attachment we seem to have to our food system. AgFunder, in its 2016 AgTech Investing Report, noted that investments hit $3.2 billion last year, which was actually a drop of 30 percent from the sector’s best year in 2015 when VC dollars reached $4.6 billion. These sorts of billion-dollar numbers are pretty recent, as you can see in the graph below.
Our latest agtech article on artificial intelligence was popular, so we thought we’d dive into the market again. Here we give you the top 14 agtech startups by funding. Why 14? Well, we’ve recently covered some of these companies, so we’ll skip most of those to bring you the freshest updates on 10 new agtech startups (highlighted in the list below).
The list is compiled from Crunchbase using our proprietary query system developed by a team of MBAs who hope to get academic grants to further fund their research, which they’ll eventually use to spin off their own startup to make millions of dollars. In the meantime, here’s the rest of the 14 most well-funded agtech startups. By the way, we purposefully left off agtech e-commerce startups, which represent some of the biggest dollars, because how much tech do you really need to order isht like bananas online? We also tried to restrict our list to those startups dedicated solely to agriculture, so we skipped including cool companies like Ginkgo Bioworks as well.
|Total Funding Amount
|Last Funding Date
|Farmers Business Network
|Farmer’s Edge Laboratories
Facebook for Farmers
Founded in 2014, California-based Farmers Business Network has raised nearly $193.9 million including a $40 million Series C led by Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL). This is another agtech startup in the farm management sector, which does more than just provide a suite of software tools to analyze things like crop yield. It’s sort of a Facebook for farmers, but instead of sharing photos of cute cats, farms share the data collected from their fields. That big data set provides insights on where to plant, for example, a particular kind of crop given the growing conditions of an individual farm, thanks to the objective experiences of thousands of other farmers.
An annual plan costs $600, which also buys farmers access to FBN’s marketplace for products such as fungicides and insecticides at discounted prices.
Small Solutions for Big Problems
Founded in 2012, AgBiome out of Raleigh, North Carolina, has raised $136.5 million, which doesn’t include a grant (undisclosed) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in December of last year. The Gates Foundation previously led a $34.5 million Series B two years ago. Other backers include Monsanto (NYSE:MON), Syngenta (NYSE:SYT) and Novozymes (CPH:NZYM-B). The company protects crops by studying and developing products from the community of microorganisms that inhabit the soils and crops—the plant world’s equivalent of the microbiome.
Its first product, Howler, launched this year. It’s a fungicide that uses natural biologicals to protect crops from disease. Howler can even be applied to organic crops. One of its biggest competitors in the space, Indigo, had a monster year in 2016 when it raised $156 million. Investments in what AgFunder calls Novel Farming Systems, which includes agtech startups using microbes, were particularly strong last year, reaching $247 million across 43 deals.
Update 09/14/2021: AgBiome has raised $116 million in Series D funding as the company prepares to pad its pipeline with new products. This brings the company’s total funding to $252.5 million to date.
The Future’s So Bright
Founded in 2011, New York-based BrightFarms has taken in nearly $112.9 million. Its part of the crop of agtech startups moving the farm closer to the city in what TechCrunch called “futuristic greenhouses”. We’re a little fuzzy about what makes them so sci-fi-like, as hydroponics isn’t exactly mining the moon for green cheese. The company says it uses less energy than the latest wave of indoor farms, which employ precision farming tech, including artificial intelligence, to grow arugula for hipsters at Whole Foods. That category includes No. 1-funded agtech startup Plenty and No. 5 funded AeroFarms, which we recently highlighted in our AI in agtech piece.
An Appealing Use of Agtech
Founded in 2012, Apeel Sciences out of Santa Barbara, has raised $110 million to take a bite out of food waste with the backing of top VC firms like Andreessen Horowitz. The agtech startup has developed a coating using natural plant extracts taken from recycled agricultural byproducts to extend the shelf life of produce after it’s been harvested. Now you can leave that forgotten apple in the back of the fridge for weeks without it going rotten. The company says its product is all natural and can be used on organic produce.
Giving Farmers an Edge
Founded in 2005, Winnipeg’s Farmers Edge Laboratories had a good fundraising year in 2016, hauling in nearly $50 million over four rounds, with total disclosed funding to date at $103.45 million for its farm management platform. The agtech startup provides both hardware, like the weather station below, and its flagship software FarmCommand (wasn’t this a Facebook game?) to provide all sorts of data to help farmers manage their acreage.
Plans start for as little as $2 per acre. Higher price points buy growers access to analytics including satellite data to help identify different production zones in their fields and software for calculating return on investment.
A Startup on Facebook
Founded way back in 2000, Kansas City-based FarmLink is another big data agtech startup in farm management, raising $82 million to date. It has a Facebook page as its homepage, so apparently, it’s not investing last year’s $24.6 million Series C on outreach and marketing. According to AgFunder News, the agtech startup markets a variety of software solutions for farmers to manage their properties. Its latest offering is a machinery sharing platform called MachineryLink Sharing, which enables farmers to rent out any idle equipment.
A Stimulating AgTech Startup
Founded a decade ago in 2007, Montreal-based Inocucor Technologies has nearly $72.8 million, including a $29 million Series B earlier this year. Aside from winning runner-up as company with a name most likely to be used by a supervillain in a film, Inocucor is another agtech startup turning microbes into mighty (and natural) products to enhance crop growth.
These biostimulants, as they’re called, are intended to help reduce our reliance on chemical pesticides and other nasty products that cause things like three-eyed fish to grow in the sea. The company already has a couple of products on the market and tells AgFunder News the fresh capital will be used to set up a new HQ in the U.S. and make a few strategic acquisitions.
Seed for Success
Formed in 2012, St. Louis-based NewLeaf Symbiotics has raised nearly $57.6 million, and just completed the second close of its $30 million Series C this month. Like AgBiome, NewLeaf Symbiotics is targeting beneficial plant bacteria for commercialization to enhance crop health and yield. It has narrowed its focus onto pink pigmented facultative methylotrophs (PPFMs). It has a couple of products in the PPFM pipeline, according to TechCrunch, one for soybean seeds and the second for peanuts. Both natural (i.e., no organisms were modified) products are applied to the seeds to make them more resistant to disease and adverse environmental conditions.
More Than One Way to Skin an Animal
Founded in 2011, Modern Meadow out of Brooklyn, New York, has raised $53.5 million in disclosed funding. We actually covered this company about four years ago, but what these guys are doing is worth another mention, especially since the agtech startup has added nearly $40 million since we wrote about them.
Modern Meadow is an alumnus of Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs, with a roster of about 20 investors. They’re not exactly turning water into wine, but biofabricating leather from animal cells. Starting with living cells, Modern Meadow grows collagen, the same natural protein found in animal skin, assembles it into a sheet material, and then finishes it in a simplified tanning process. The company claims its leather is not only superior to the real thing, but better for the planet and 80 percent less wasteful.
A Tangled Web They Weave
Founded in 2005, Kalamazoo-based Vestaron Corp. has raised about $49.2 million on the idea of using spider venom as an insecticide. Does Spiderman know about this diabolical plot, because let’s face it, Vestaron Corporation is definitely the sort of name we’ve come to expect of a villainous organization. The company says the product is natural and not harmful to two-legged or four-legged mammals.
Update 06/10/2019: Vestaron has raised $40 million in Series B financing to support the commercialization of its Spear family of products, including expansion into new geographies, and accelerating the development of its pipeline of additional peptide-based biopesticides. This brings the company’s total funding to $89.2 million to date.
This year’s $200 million mega-round to Plenty by the SoftBank Vision Fund seems to be part of a new chapter in agriculture. Companies are finding ways to grow more with less using new technologies, from AI and software analytics to the latest genomic techniques. We suspect Big Ag players like Monsanto will continue to gobble up startups before we’ll see any eye-popping IPOs. In fact, there were $31 billion in acquisitions by major ag companies between 2008 and 2015. Of course, there’s always the chance one of these rising agtech startups will eschew the easy exit and go public. We’ll continue to keep an eye on this tasty sector in the meantime.
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