With around 40% of world’s population working at the agricultural industry and generating revenue of $120.6 billion in 2013, it is not quite surprising to know that Silicon Valley has entered this industry too. With the Silicon Valley entering with farm tech products, Gardening also has grabbed some attending and turning into a popular hobby for many. Last year’s Silicon Valley AgTech conference in Palo Alto pulled in a large number of consumers and major agricultural companies. Let look into top ten startups that took a stand in 2014.
The agricultural startup, Solum tackles a huge market need and environmental problems of the actual amount of nutrients needed for the soil to be fertile. It offers a field deployable tool and cloud-based software technology to give a farmer on-site data analysis about the soil. This provides the farmers the knowledge and information regarding how and where to apply nutrients for optimum crop yields. It moves beyond widely used satellite technology to provide on-site data analysis for farmers . The startup claims the technology used is more precise and efficient than simple field analysis. It has two products which are the No-Wait Nitrate system and the Readout Ready field lab. The former is a tool to make immediate soil-nitrate level measurements and latter is to help farmers optimize their land and improve their crop output.
Founded in 2009 by a group of Stanford physics and engineering graduates, the company partnered with agriculture giant Monsanto to expand business. The company was initially funded by Khosla ventures with seed round in 2010 for $2 million. Andreessen Horowitz lead Solum’s another round of funding for $17 million with Khosla Ventures also participating. Andreesen Horowitz’s General Partner John O’Farell joined the Solum board. The relationship between Andreesen and Solum marks a shift from the VC firm’s track record of social media investments but Solum CEO Nick Koshnick says Andreessen has been behind the need for technology and data in the agricultural space for years. Andreesen wrote, “Agriculture is increasingly powered by software, including satellite analysis of soils linked to per-acre seed selection software algorithms.”
Soil IQ is a startup company that brings the “Internet of Things” trend to rural and urban farming. It explore analyses the dirt in the garden and gives suggestions regarding when to water the plants and connects the farmers with farmers around growing fresh produce for sale. Soil IQ has an in-built soil sensor for small gardens and farms to help regular people grow a healthier supply of fruits and vegetables. The probe is powered by a solar panel so it can run non-stop. It can function with either soil-based or hydroponics gardens and either food or medicinal crops. They even rigged it to send SMS or Twitter alerts when plants need attention.
Founded in 2013 by Princeton graduate and soil scientist, Jason Aramburu, Soil IQ’s mission is to help people to grow food more sustainably. The company raised a funding of $200,000 from Orange and other angel investors. The device is sold at $50 for farmers and large companies. Along with selling it to consumers directly, the company could also license out their dataset, on the assumption that enough people use it to produce interesting data on which crops grow well in different environments. Apart from targeting the USA market, the company is working with one of their investor, Orange Telecom, to help implement these probes to farmers in East Africa. Also, the company has a big ace in the pocket through a partnership with Yves Behar, the famed industrial designer behind FuseProject and chief creative officer behind Jawbone. He would assist with fashioning Soil IQ’s app and product. Teaming with fuseproject shows evidence that hardware design is becoming increasingly important and more accessible for tech startups.
3.Blue River Technology:
The California-based startup Blue River Technology brings together computer vision and robotics to automate agriculture. The company is building an alternative to chemical-intensive agriculture, which is both expensive and hazardous to the environment. With the company’s techniques, it is applied to identify weeds and selectively kill unwanted plants. The company technique is much more advanced and efficient to remove weed than the old and conventional method. The automated solution is ideal for organic agriculture and for fields with chemical-resistant weeds. The ultimate goal is to enable large-scale farms to focus to the needs of the individual plants versus the broadcast methods employed currently like spraying pesticide.
Founded by Jorge Heraud in 2011, the company has closed a $10 million series A-1 funding round last year, led by Data Collective Venture Capital and topping up a $3.1 million Series A it raised back in 2012. Eric Schmidt’s Innovation Endeavors also joined the round as a new investor, while the current investor also took part in it. With the raised fund, the company is working to extend its innovative plant recognition systems and big data techniques for application with row crops like corn and soybeans, that can gain from phenotyping for crop breeding as well as precise weed control. One of the biggest hurdle for this startup company to uptake robotics optimized agriculture is the low-cost of using chemicals. “Blue River is leveraging three important trends: machine learning, data-driven agriculture and robotics. This approach has the potential to revolutionize how we produce food in the near future,” said Matt Ocko, founding partner of Data Collective Venture Capital.
Smart Gardener is the first technology-enabled platform that is designed to help people plan, grow and harvest their own organic food. It keeps gardening simple and makes recommendations regarding the right plant, where to plant, number of plants and also includes planting, mulching, feeding, thinning, watering etc., Their online service leverages custom technology to deliver a whole personalized experience that makes it convenient and satisfying for people to plan, manage and track their homegrown food, all from one place and then easily share or trade the harvest with the locals. This garden planner works fine for all climate types and regions, throughout the year.
Smart Gardener, part of Smart Living Studios, Inc was co-founded by Kristee Rosendahl and Carl Alguire in 2012. The company has been funded by private individuals who are concerned about the future of the food system. “They learned about us through word of mouth, presentations or press about what we were doing and then reached out to us,” says Rosendahl. The company wants their technology to be used by people with balcony apartment, families in the city and the suburbs, community gardens and even CSAs and small farms. Apart from the gardeners, the company provides a business version called Smart Gardener Backyard that provides landscapers to design, build and maintain 10 to 60 gardens a week for clients that want the benefits of a backyard garden along with the service that helps them do it. The company continues to study new geo-location and predictive technologies to help recommend plants for indivudual user’s microclimate. Though the current focus is on the users within USA, they have users from 21 countries.
The startup Farmeron is a Web data service that farmers can use to aggregate the troves of information produced about their animals diets, health, reproduction, milk production and medicine or drug dosage. Though the farmers had lots of data in hand, they had very little knowledge to analyze it. this technology works to connect the data coming from farm machinery directly to the Web. It focuses on making the analysis and the dashboard as fast and appealing to use like consumer sites such as Mint. Since the data is collected from varied farms, Farmeron can make broad conclusion about what works and provide recommendations on how to improve production.
Founded in 2010 by Matija Kopic, Farmeron.com is a startup billing itself as one of the world’s first agricultural SaaS companies. It first raised $15,000 in 2010 and then got Seedcamp Week prize of Euro 25,000 in 2011, followed by an undisclosed investment by Dave McClure’s 500 Startups. in 2012, it closed a $1.4 million seed round co-led by Lee Hower of NextView Ventures and Jeff Clavier of SoftTech VC. Other important angel investors include Evan Nisselson of LDV Capital, Niko Hrdy, Taavet Hinrikus. The funds raised will be invested to hire key management team members and to staff sales and support teams both in US and Europe. The company old investors Reshma Sohoni of Seedccamp, Dave McClure of 500startups and Robin Klein of TAG also took part in the $4.1 seed round. Currently, Farmeron focuses only on dairy and beef cow company, charging farmers with up to 75 cows about 25 cents per head monthly. For those farmers with around 600 cows pay about 45 cents each month. Farmers with more cows have customized packages. The company is planning to expand into crop management and analyzing chicken and pigs soon.
The startup Freight Farms modifies shipping containers to grow hydroponic plants and vegetables anywhere, throughout the year. It is a new way for small-scale farmers to grow crops year-round in a computer-controlled environment even in the middle of the city. The containers provide hydroponic technology that uses a mineral-based solution to grow crops rather than soil. This means the quality of the produce is not affected by existing weather conditions and that the conditions can be specifically tailored. Such systems absorb 90% less water than traditional growing methods. The firm offers LED lighting in their containers that is comparatively favorable to other lighting methods. On the whole, the Freight Farms says every container taken around 30,000 kWh of electricity annually to run.
Started by Brad McNamara and Jonathan Friedman in 2011, the containers have designated spaces exclusive for plants of different growth stages, including a seedling and germination area for 2,500 plants, 256 vertical towers for the growth of over 4500 mature plants. The company raised $30,000 with a Kickstarter campaign for the launch of the company. Then the company has financed its growth through customer payments. Last year, the company raised $3.7 million on Series B round funding. It sells the containers at $76,000 and also offer financing options. Currently, it has rolled out upgraded and update model of its shipping containers. Recently, Frieght Farm has been nominated for the Hottest Startup – Seed (Tech) at 3rd Annual NEVY Awards on May 13th, 2015.
7.Home Aquaponics Kit
The Home Aquaponics Kits consists everything a person needs to start a self-contained herb garden with aquaponics as mode of propagation, barring the water and the fish. The set up is actually a table-top fish tank with a herb garden located on the top and recipients of the kit get the tank and garden unit, five pots filled with pebbles, a mix of organic seeds, fish food, water conditioners and an air pump to pump water from the tank to the garden. The system mechanism is quite simple. You feed the fish, fish excretes the food, the water containing the waste is pumped up to the plants, the plants take in the nutrients from the effluent and water is sent back into the tank. Through this process, the tank is kept clean, the plants are kept fed and the process of waste being up cycled into edible food is revealed.
Founded by Alejandro Velez and Nikhil Arora in 2009, the inspiration behind the startup was a lecture on using waste products as the basis for growing food. Though the start-up costs for that product were minimal, the Home Aquaponics Kits required more funding, so the company had launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise fund. The first round of campaign raised $250,000 of the $100,000 goal. The retail rate of the product is around $70. Along the way the duo became passionate about sustainability, have given multiple TED Talks and have appeared on the White House’s Top Social Innovators list.
8.Local Food Lab:
The startup Local Food Lab is an academy and online community for food entrepreneurs. The startup offers nationwide events and courses in food entrepreneurship and online business planning tools to assist startups related to food to grow in their business. The idea blends startup best practises from Silicon Valley with deep food industry and supply chain knowledge to empower entrepreneurs to create disruptive and durable business. The startup organizes workshops for example, where the biz-rookies can learn to build businessplan and talk to fellow beginners to make their startup work. It was more or less like Pinterest for food startups.
Founded by Krysia Zajonc and Mateo Aquilar, the startup Local Food Lab accelerator program was started to fill the mentorship void. The four-week program of the company was designed to assist participants build a business plan, pull in investors and build a network of contacts. They were also taught various business concepts with one-to-one mentors. It also has six-week program that offers its participants a chance to work with notable techies, foodies, investors and strategists in the Bay Area. These programs may be a small step towards Local Food Lab’s goal of becoming “the leading source for the ideas, skills and communities that will nurture innovation and entrepreneurship in local food systems,” but it’s likely to yield some new treats.
9.The Windowfarms Project:
The Windowfarm is literally a mini-farm in the window of the house. It is people-friendly hydroponic growing system, that allows people living in apartments to experience the thrill of DIY food production. It is fun because it gives people a chance to experience first-hand re-circulating agriculture that one believe will be key to achieving sustainability and food security. The design of the vertical food growing system takes advantage of the existing natural light and climate control indoors so one can grow some of own year-round without exhausting more energy. It is very clean as plants’ roots sits in containers full of clay pellets and a pump on timer periodically sends a kind of organic liquefied soil coursing over the roots.
The Brooklyn-based social enterprise started in 2010 runs a 40,000 members online community of growers raised $257,000 of a $50,000 goal. Harvesting herbs and salad greens from your window throughout the year does not come for cheap, though. The windowfarm column is retailed at $199. The Windowfarm site provides complete details to help one build home unit from scratch. The startup is a nonprofit and it is based on the open-source method of user-collaboration. As a matter of fact, the whole Windowfarms idea was initiated on the idea that crowd sourcing could be harnessed to solve environmental problems.
Nourishmat is a 4-feet by 6-feet garden system that comes as a package with everything one need to get growing. It includes organic seeds, fertilizer and a mat that provides instructions and a kind of map of holes that will space the seeds in the perfect manner. The seeds are implanted in a balls of fertilizer, clay and chilli powder, to nourish the seeds and to keep away the pests. One has to just push the ball halfway into the soil and it requires no tilling. Through the perforated drip system in the mat the required amount of water is delivered. The mat uses a technique called square foot gardening. “The key is planting in grids instead of rows so you can maximize your space,” said Weiner, the co-founder of the Nourishmat. “More food in less space. We adapted the layout of the Nourishmat based on this popular method. We say natural because it embraces the idea of bio-diversity.” This method takes in less water and fertilizer than the traditional monoculture farming.
The mat belong to the company EarthStarter, the San Francisco-based company, founded by Phil Weiner and John Gorby in 2011. The founders self-funded the company through three beta-testing stages, a year-long process that entailed testing versions of the Nourishmat. However, the only way to get a Nourishmat at the earlier stages was through the Kickstarter campaign. Now it’s available for $79 with in-built irrigation system. The cost includes 82 seedballs, mixture of clay, compost and earthworm casting. Through the Kickstarter campaign, the company raised $107,534 of a $70,000 goal.