270+ Companies from 55 Countries Apply to THRIVE Accelerator 2018-2019 Cohort

Applications to THRIVE’s Seed Accelerator closed October 31 and we are delighted to announce that we received nearly 300 applications from 55 countries. Going into its fifth year, THRIVE continues to expand its presence in new regions around the world with the help of our corporate partners including Coca Cola, Trimble, Heidenhain, Taylor Farms, EY, Driscoll’s Berries, Land O’Lakes, Verizon, Wells Fargo and Corteva Agriscience and global affiliates.

Technologies from applicant companies covered an equal distribution between next gen farms, big data analytics, food tech and supply chain, with robotics and automation, biotechnology and e-commerce solutions representing a smaller but significant share of this year’s cohort pool. The problem areas addressed by these companies include crop protection and nutrition, farm management, labor and food security.

 

In the coming weeks, all applications will be reviewed THRIVE’s SVG team and corporate partners, with ten companies selected to participate in the accelerator program kicking off during THRIVE’s Seed Camp in spring 2019. The ten selected companies will be announced in February 2019.

 

Other THRIVE News:

Registration open for THRIVE Innovation Summit March 27: 
Hosted for the third year on March 27 at Santa Clara University, the THRIVE Innovation Summit will bring together 250 agribusiness leaders, investors, growers, and agtech and foodtech startups from around the world to discuss the challenges and solutions for the agriculture industry. We are pleased to welcome Beth Ford, CEO, Land O’Lakes as our keynote speaker. Agenda topics include Blockchain – ‘Solving Agricultural Supply Chain Problems One “Byte” at a Time’, ‘Mega City Farming – How Indoor and Vertical Farming Can Help Feed the World’, ‘The Potential of Biotechnology – Addressing Critical Food Security Issues’, and ‘Automated Agriculture – Robots From Planting to Harvest’. Register now.

Nominations for THRIVE’s 2019 TOP 50 are open:

THRIVE is looking for agtech startups disrupting the agriculture and food sectors through innovation and technology to be a selected as part of THRIVE’s Top 50. Companies are required to have a product in market and be at least series A+ in order to qualify for Top 50. Nominate now.

The Fast-Growing World of Indoor Farming

The image of the modern-day farm extends from a well-orchestrated landscape of lettuce heads, to a chic building in inner city Newark, New Jersey.

Welcome to AeroFarms, one of the largest indoor farming companies in the U.S. and one of the pioneers of the indoor farming sector in the US. The glass exteriors of the front façade — of what was once a steel mill — reveal rows of leafy greens and micro greens in vertically stacked trays.

AeroFarms is a success when it comes to both its products and fundraising.

According to data provider Crunchbase, since AeroFarms was founded in 2004, the company has raised some $138 million to date. Its high-profile investors include Swedish company IKEA Group, former U.S. Army General David Petraeus and American restauranteur David Chang the founder of the Momofuku Group.The company has 120 full time employees including a robust team of scientists, researchers and engineers mostly based at its Newark headquarters.

But AeroFarms is not an anomaly, it is part of one of the fastest growing segments of agriculture — indoor farming. According to the 2017 Agrilyst report, indoor farming makes up 30 percent of facility type, second to the green house. An estimated 49 percent is grown via hydroponics while 24 percent is soil based.

While the geography of the farms varies extensively, indoor farms share some commonalities.

The majority are in or near big cities where they occupy what were once warehouses. Most of the farms grow micro greens, herbs and baby lettuce or spinach.

These include BrightFarms based in Irvington, New York just north of Manhattan, Freight Farms, Detroit Dirt, Edenworks and SproutsIO.

Funding in the indoor farming space is on the uptick. Indoor farming startups around the world raised $285 million since 2017 with the U.S. leading the pack when it comes to amount of investment, according to AgFunder data.

This past June, for example, Crop One Holdings the parent company of Freshbox Farms signed a $40 million joint venturewith the catering arm of global airline Emirates to build a vertical farm.

The indoor farming boom is also catching on in the Midwest and West Coast too. In 2017 San Francisco-based indoor farming company Plenty Ag received an infusion of $200 million from Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund.

“Following the $200m investment made by Softbank in Californian vertical farming startup Plenty, we’ve seen patchy growth in vertical farming investment,” said Michael Dean, chief investment officer at online venture capital investor AgFunder. “Outside cannabis, new entrants in the production space have generally found raising capital a challenge as investors tended to focus on niche technology developers and the established vertical farms who were able to sufficiently de-risk and prove supply chains were viable, and ready for expansion.”

An hour away by plane Oasis Biotech’s vertical farming facility is thriving in Las Vegas with over 217,000 square feet of 18 varieties of baby lettuce and 10 varieties of specialty herbs.

In the Midwest, 42 percent of farms who responded to the report’s survey are indoor vertical operations and 50 percent are in urban areas, according to Agrilyst.

John Hartnett founder and CEO of SVG Ventures and the THRIVE Accelerator. “We are increasingly on the lookout for startups with technologies that address the increasing constraints to in-field growing, and indoor farming is a category that is demonstrating real efficiencies in this sense.”

Climate change, labor shortage

The genesis of AeroFarms started as a solution to the supply chain, which is infamously lengthy in the agriculture sector.

“Originally, we thought we were about a supply chain disruption. How do we bypass a very complex supply chain and develop a fresher product,” said Marc Oshima a co-founder of AeroFarms and Chief Marketing Officer in an interview with THRIVE.

But the co-founders, David Rosenberg CEO and Ed Harwood, Chief Science Officer, fast learned that they had more in common with traditional growers than initially thought. The growth of indoor farming was also prompted by perennial ag challenges such as limited water supply and a severe labor shortage.

Oshima continued, “We had seen what the macro challenges were — population growth, urbanization, challenges to traditional farming, loss of arable land. We realized we needed some new paradigms, and some new systems. From day one our lens has been very much global in nature.” The company for example uses no soil and 95 percent less water than a traditional farm.

“Our way of growing and systemic growth is really about setting a new standard for farming overall,” said Oshima.

Agtech and indoor farming appear to be a natural match, considering the requirements of indoor farming. Within a contained space there are meticulously monitored conditions, and natural conditions replaced with LED lights and pools of water rather than soil.

AeroFarms keeps all of its innovation and research inhouse, and has its own team of over 30 mechanical and electrical engineers. Oshima stresses the technology, which has included designing their own LED lighting rays, is proprietary.

Other indoor farms such as BrightFarms (THRIVE Top 50 winner) look externally for innovation.

Innovation can include machine learning or AI to “help us understand the growth patterns of our crops as they are growing,” said Abby Prior, Bright Farms Vice President of Marketing.

“We do have some internal development, but we are just looking for the best technology. We are using the tools that are being developed by other startups, and by other agtech technologies to help improve our process,” said Prior.

Technology is “extremely important,” Prior said. “We look to benefit from technology that is available and quickly catching up with the controlled development world.”

At BrightFarms technologies have helped increase efficiency, crop yield and produce quality, she said.

BrightFarms has four operating farms including Bucks County Pennsylvania, Culpepper, Virginia, Rochelle, Illinois and the newest one in Ohio, where the company is expanding its Midwest footprint.

The company uses hydroponic green houses to farm. BrightFarms’ growers regularly work with breeder and seed companies to identity new kinds of greens; for example, a new product launched earlier this year was “Happy Beet” created from the green part of the beet. (top of beets)

Consumer demand

In the grand scheme of things, indoor farming addresses the needs of consumers living metropolises where it is a given that land and water supply are limited.

“The future is that why have lettuce come to New York from California when we can grow it in the metro areas?” said Herbert Kliegerman the publisher of iGrow News, a news website focused on indoor and urban farming. “Indoor farming is controlled environmental agriculture. I see this in every major city.”

Agricultural experts and researchers say that vertical and indoor farming is here to stay, and see it on a growth trajectory globally. Countries such as Japan,known for its limited space in cities such as Tokyo, already have an existing history with indoor farming.

Neil Matson, associate professor at Cornell University’s School of Integrative Plant Science, specializes in researching greenhouse crops and vertical farms.

Matson forecasts there will be more production facilities worldwide, higher valued horticultural crops, and more plants grown for medical purposes. Growth is also being sparked by what he calls the “foodie movement,” consumers who are increasingly keen on locally grown foods, connecting with local growers.

“People seem more interested in the providence of their food, and having a relationship or knowing how their food is produced,” said Matson, noting another drive could be food safety referring to the recent romaine lettuce scares.

This leaves opportunities for more innovation and technology in this space, particularly for robotics and lighting; two of the biggest costs of production on the urban farm remain labor and energy, Matson added.

Agtech entrepreneurs

Some agtech entrepreneurs have jumped on the bandwagon.

Tinia Pina, the founder and CEO of Re-Nuble and a member of the THRIVE IV seed accelerator, launched Re-Nuble in 2016 with the urban farm as the target. Re-Nuble is a supplier of chemical-free hydroponic fertilizer that is produced by organic produce waste. With her product Pina was intent on tackling a greater problem of food waste; Re-Nuble works with partners where they can trace food waste sourced from organic suppliers.

“We saw the demand for it,” said Pina, noting consumers are increasingly more interested in what they are purchasing and consuming.

While the timing for vertical farms seems ripe, Pina also pointed to potential challenges such as cost of real estate, notably in the country’s biggest and most cosmopolitan cities New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Despite the real estate sticker shock in big cities, vertical/indoor farming is also attracting younger people into the game.

Ricky Stephens, co-founder of AgTech X a co-working and educational space in New York City for agtech startups, said the majority of startups are in vertical or rooftop farming. Stephens said there are three drivers that are attracting young innovators: potential environmental impact, positive benefits to health and wellness and “the food — which has a sexiness and fits the Instagram-able world we live in. Finally, urban agriculture bleeds into other emerging niches within the larger sustainable food and smart city movements.”

The road ahead

AeroFarms’ Oshima said the company is interested in technologies that will help in forming what he calls the “fully connected farm.” Without divulging details, Oshima said it involves using various monitoring methods, data, sensors to better understand all aspects of the growing process from flavor, smell to yield with the goal of “continuous improvement,” he said.

To be sure, the vertical farm of the future could mean reducing the time of the harvesting cycles such as shaving a 30-day harvest by half or developing flowers with shorter stems (the company has grown edible flowers).

“We could be 390 times more productive on an annualized basis because of those crop cycles,” Oshima said. “We are also getting greater yield per square foot, and we can get greater output for that.”

AeroFarms currently grows over 400 different varieties of leafy greens.

The fully connected farm is global — extended to cities around the world — and it seeks solutions to global challenges, said Oshima pointing to the heat waves and droughts that have plagued the U.K. and the lettuce shortages in Spain and Italy.

“Technology in a science driven approach has been the backbone of our work,” said Oshima.

 

 

THRIVE Companies Showcase at Forbes AgTech Summit Indianapolis

THRIVE accelerator companies were at the forefront of the Forbes AgTech Summit in Indianapolis last week.

Four agtech startups attended the innovation showcase included Arable, Aker Technologies, Farm Dog and 3Bar Biologics. THRIVE News caught up with the companies and learned of their recent milestones.

AKER

Aker, a member of THRIVE IV’s cohort, has much to celebrate said CEO and co-founder Orlando Saez. In September the company announced new crop and aerial imagery trials with Bayer’s crop science division, which is a leader in seed, crop protection and non-ag pest control. The trials are tracking results from Delaro, Bayer’s new corn and soybean fungicide.

In a news release, said Ray Lello, fungicides product manager at Bayer, spoke of how critical trials are to the product.

“Trials in 2017 found that Delaro provided a substantial yield increase over the untreated check in corn and soybeans. However, we also consistently heard from trial participants that they observed improved plant health from Delaro,” said Lello. “That’s why we are thrilled to collaborate with Aker to track qualitative metrics like plant health in addition to the known quantitative yield results of Delaro over the untreated check in corn and soybeans. Understanding how these benefits help contribute to an overall return on investment is beneficial for growers as they look to get the most out of their corn hybrids and soybean varieties.”

Saez credits his mentor Walt Duflock, managing partner of SVG Partners, for working closely with the company and getting them to the next level.

Arable
Arable, a member of THRIVE’s IV cohort, has been celebrating a productive year.

To start with the company, which produces a weather and plant measurement device, welcomed new CEO Jeff Keiser in July.

Arable also expanded headquarters from Princeton, NJ to Oakland, Calif., and hired another seven employees including engineers.

“We had a fantastic 2018 year – we really scaled up our sales team and solidified customer support. We developed some really amazing partnerships, we brought in new CEO in early July, and now about to hire new engineers,” said Jess Bollinger, vice president of strategic partnerships.

In 2018, Bollinger said, the focus has been on refining the device including improving yield forecast and developing into disease analytics and increasing alerts and notifications on crops

Since Arable’s product launched in June 2017, some 1,000 devices have been deployed in 22 countries globally examining some 26 different crops. It works with 150 customers including Francis Ford Coppola Winery, Ferro, Driscoll’s and The Nature Conservancy. To date, Arable has raised $13.2 million including from grants.

Bollinger credits THRIVE with connecting the company with some of its biggest clients especially with farmers and vintners in the Salinas Valley where agriculture is a $9 billion industry.

“THRIVE has helped build a really important network for us in the Salinas Valley where we have many key customers in that area who have been willing to provide strong feedback that has shaped much of our product development,” said Bollinger.

At Forbes AgTech Summit in Indianapolis, Arable was also one of nine companies chosen as part of Demo Day. During Demo Day and the Summit said they received stellar feedback for the product and ultimately more “brand visibility.”

Farm Dog 

Farm Dog’s CEO and founder Liron Brish said he has had a whirlwind summer.

Farm Dog, a member of the THRIVE IV accelerator that provides pest and disease management scouting platform, is focused on a new round of fundraising (to date the company has raised $2 million).

Brish, born in Israel and based in Tel Aviv, is also amid a transcontinental move and Los Angeles bound to be closer to the agriculture industry. A former consultant in farm harvest with McKinsey & Co., Brish said the company was awarded a number of important initiatives since joining THRIVE.

There’s the partnership with John Deere one of the largest farm equipment manufacturers in the world where Farm Dog’s software connects with Deere equipment to provide data analytics. There’s the $900,000 grant from the BIRD Foundation (The Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation) in Israel that is fueling the company’s research and development. Farm Dog is also working with the USDA, University of Georgia and University of Florida, on building a regional pest disease management program. Brish said Farm Dog is providing the algorithm for the program.

Farm Dog, now in a million and a half acres and has conducted more than 25,000 field visits, also seeks to build out the AI part of the platform next.

Brish said THRIVE helped the company gain even more credibility in the agtech space.

“THRIVE did good job creating a network among startups,” said Brish noting the “connections that THRIVE made to the industry” when it comes to startups. “It’s hard enough being a startup, it’s even harder being an agtech startup,” he said, noting the sector is still fairly new when it comes to investment and acceptance from growers.

3Bar Biologics

Bruce Caldwell the CEO and founder of 3Bar Biologics cited a number of the company’s laurels since it joined the THRIVE Accelerator Program in 2017.

A spin-out from Ohio State University, the company provides natural microorganisms to boost healthier crops with higher yields. 3Bar has been in hiring mode tripling the size of its team to seven staffers including on the sales and marketing front. The company also received a greenlight for its first patent and has completed a seed round of $2 million. Over the summer 3Bar conducted a trial with Land O’Lakes, the connection made through the THRIVE program.

Caldwell said the connections with corporations has been golden for 3Bar.

“There are now a lot of companies in the THRIVE network that connect with other CEOs of young startups, and some of the larger relationships have been very impactful,” he said.

The sky is the limit for the company, he said. 3Bar plans to double sales and staffing annually and expand its reach when it comes to crops and geographies.