11 Indoor Farming Companies Taking Agriculture Indoors
In our last article on precision agriculture, we talked about how global poverty is plummeting and there are fewer starving Africans that we need to feel guilty about every time we chuck out the leftover quiche because it gets too rubbery when zapped in the microwave. Now that we’ve sorted out all those poor people living in that far away country called Africa, we can move on to solving problems that hit a bit closer to home.
We’re talking, of course, about the whole “farm to table” trend where everyone wants to know that the leafy green they’re nibbling on was grown by farmer Dick who lives two blocks away, a stern but likable old man, who tenderly nurtured the growing leaves every day in worn denim overalls while his golden retriever named Maggie frolicked alongside a small herd of free-range cows grazing in an idyllic pasture nearby. Story has now become an important part of the foodie experience, and being able to say that you grew something yourself means a lot to consumers. Which, of course, means you can then charge them more.
“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). If your amazing indoor farm startup isn’t on this list, drop us a note in the comments section below and the thousands of lovely readers that grace our site every day will still get to know about your venture. Please note that the main focus of this article is on indoor agriculture platforms that operate at 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-free environment. 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.
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.
Update 01/27/2022: Plenty has raised $400 million in Series E funding to make fresh, clean produce more accessible and affordable. This brings the company’s total funding to more than $941 million to date.
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.
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.
Update 05/25/2021: Bowery Farming has raised $300 million in Series C funding at a $2.3 billion valuation to fuel their continued expansion. This brings the company’s total funding to $467.5 million to date.
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 indoor vertical farming operation:
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:
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 $45 million in 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 in an occupied urban area.
Gotham Greens currently owns and operates 4 urban greenhouses in NYC + Chicago and they’re in the process of expanding nationally. 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.
Update 12/08/2020: Gotham Greens has raised $87 million in Series D funding equity and debt funding to support channel and geographic market expansion. This brings the company’s total funding to $125.1 million to date.
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:
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 indoor farmers from the equation entirely? These are some serious questions to think about, but maybe not as serious as our next startup.
Update 09/22/2021: Iron Ox has raised $53 million in Series C funding to expand its research and development programs, scale manufacturing, and continue operations across the United States. This brings the company’s total funding to $103.2 million to date.
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.
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.
Update 12/16/2021: Infarm has raised $200 million in Series D funding to support their rapid global expansion and bolster their R&D so that they can grow more varieties of crops. This brings the company’s total funding to $604.5 million to date.
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 they say that 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 urban agriculture 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.
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Another article solely based on the amount of cash raised. Seems to me that a no funding, no debt company like CEA Advisors deserves a mention for the first truly disruptive Hyper-Local fresh produce initiative with Growtainers® and HEB owned Central Market in Dallas and Houston.
Thank you for the comment! We needed an arbitrary way to select companies to include and funding happened to fit. We have noted your company and will add this to our list (we’re in the process of doing some research work in the indoor farming space at the moment). Also, you may be interested in reading the below related piece as well:
Its an old article. Was the author a paid discounter of these technologies? The flippant and annoying way it is written won’t get you on a Ted Talk, maybe Howard Stern. Not helpful except for me to start a list.
Polled everyone in the office. We’d all much rather meet Howard Stern than give a Ted Talk, so we appear to be on the right track.
Hard to say if indoor farming is economically viable. We did a piece on container farming in Nauru that looks at the economics: https://nanalyze.com/2019/11/container-farming-economics/
have you seen the electric and water bills?
Unless the companies are all in the south where it is warm most of the times … it can not be done at low cost.
We are of the belief that it can’t be done at low cost no matter where these farms are located – even at scale. We’d love to be proven wrong on that.
The section on Plenty says that “a 250,000 square foot space that equates to 5 acres because plants are being grown sideways on walls up to 20 feet high” … excuse me, but unless my math is wrong, 5 acres is 217,800 sqft. The Plenty factory footprint is larger than 5 acres. Not knowing how long and how many of the vertical trellises exist across that >5acre area is needed to better understand the growing potential difference between this factory and a 5 acre plot of ground.
Your math is spot on and you’ve raised on interesting point. Given the article is several years old we have no way to know where that stat was pulled from but it was likely take right from the company’s marketing collateral. So 250,000 is about 15% larger than 217,800 so a meaningful size difference but not too extreme. This is noted and thank you for taking the time to point that out.
We haven’t been able to find any case – yet – where vertical farming is able to compete on price with traditional farming. Unless it can, it needs to be subsidized, and that’s not scalable.
I read the comments and i’m amused how the posters are so uneducated in the process that they conjur up reasons that seem to discredit the technology.
The cost of water is dramatically less becasue most of the farms use 97% less in the hydroponic systems. Fertilizer costs are minimized because most incorporate aquaponics in their operations and fish waste is used to supplant synthetic chemicals used in conventional farming. LED lights are used up to 16 hours a day and the efficiency of the lights is much greater and less expensive then flourescent, Incandescent, Halogen, etc.. Heating and cooling cost are dependent on the climate and time of year and are the greatest expense. The location of the installation and gas and electricity costs vary widely.. Labor is far less with the automation and density of farming then field farming. Crop turnaround from seed to harvest greatly exceeds that of conventional farming because seasons are not an impediment to growing.
The biggiest economic advantage is the savings in freight costs when travelling up to 1800 miles from conventional farm to retailer. There is less waste with indoor production and fresher product with longer shelflife. I have done the research on over 50 technologies in CEA farming and have been in the fresh produce industry since 1976. My experience is hands on and CEA farming will be the future for farming fresh vegetabkes and some fruits, like strawberries.
Thank you for taking the time to share David! We’ve honestly tried hard to find evidence that indoor farming is economically viable. I’m Joe P., the managing editor, and I’ve personally spent a lot of time on this. I even flew to the country of Nauru and explored container growing solutions which weren’t economically feasible even given the ridiculously high price of veggies on that small island (https://www.nanalyze.com/2019/11/container-farming-economics/). One of our analysts did a piece on the profitability of vertical farms and concluded that consumers need to pay a premium (https://www.nanalyze.com/2021/06/vertical-farms-profitable/). We are very open to hearing from profitable vertical farms operating at scale so we can get on board with this thesis. For it to scale it has to compete with traditional farming. Thank you for the comment!