The agricultural industry is the linchpin of society. Adding $1.053 trillion to USA’s GDP in 2017, it’s clear that there’s money to be made from solving systemic agricultural bottlenecks.
With Extinction Rebellion lighting up the global political consciousness, the economic costs of climate change are unravelling. A 2017 report by the independent watchdog, The Government Accountability Office, concluded that climate change had cost taxpayers $350 billion in 10 years.
AgTech is stepping in to provide solutions, using an armoury of blockchain, AI, data management, machine-to-machine (m2m) communication, IoT, and more. In 2018 alone, $16.9 billion of funding was funnelled into 1,450 AgTech investments, and this is only looking to grow.
So who of these key investment players are jumping on the AgTech blockchain bandwagon? And who is likely to follow suit?
Linked to global conglomerate, Maersk, this fund is designed to ‘build the future of trade’. The launchpad seeks to springboard innovative ideas that invigorate whole ‘value chains’.
With this in mind, investments tend to focus toward technologies that enhance supply chain operations and workflows. Maersk Growth prides itself not only on its financial investment, but also its capacity to link start-ups with established infrastructure.
While the fund has only made 14 investments since the funds inception in Q2 2018, several of these have been in the agricultural and food distribution sectors. These include:
- Spoiler Alert (UD)- a platform to help farms, food businesses, and non-profit make better use of their unsold food.
- ImpactVision ($1.3m) – a new safety standard for food using hyperspectral tech.
- Frey (UD) – a commodity management solution for the flow of agricultural containers.
Relish Works is geared toward reimagining the food industry — with agriculture encompassed in that umbrella. An ‘innovation hub’ for the food sector, Relish Works is exploring macro trends, customer evolution, and the role of technology. Based out of Chicago, the niche investment firm has only funded a couple of ventures, but each has its own impact on agricultural technology. These include:
- Orderve– an online marketplace to source verified speciality ingredients
- 86 Repairs – A food industry repair management system
Their latest investment has been in blockchain AgTech, backing Ripe.io to the tune of $2.4m!
Ant Financial, formerly known as Alipay, has partnered with pharmaceutical giant and Monsanto owner, Bayer Crop Science. The aim of the venture is to create blockchain AgTech solutions that address transparency in food safety, while enhancing supply chain efficiency. Ant Financial has declared an interest in pursuing further blockchain investments, including a future partnership with Hyperledger.
Japanese investment giant, Softbank, have their fingers in many pies across the tech spectrum. Now demonstrating an interest in AgTech, Softbank famously raised $200m for Plenty, a revolutionary vertical farming technology. Equally, Softbank led a $400m funding round for Zymergen, a chemical engineering that works across the pharmaceutical and food industries.
Extending its tendrils into blockchain, Softbank has invested $100m in ZhongAn, a software to track farm-raised poultry.
Medici Ventures is in control of the financial investments made by Overstock.com. The fund’s primary focus is on backing solutions that leverage blockchain technology. While their focus isn’t necessary on agriculture, many of their investment affect the sector, including:
- IdentityMinds ($8.5m) – a platform for businesses to create digital identities, which would assist compliant distribution of goods for farmers
- Voatz ($9.2m) – a blockchain voting service which could change political landscapes
With a new eye on more specific agricultural projects, Medici Ventures has just invested a considerable $2.5m in GrainChain, a blockchain supply chain solution for grain production and distribution. This project has already been implemented by the Tamaulipas government in Mexico to track sorghum, corn, and soybean crops.
Aiming to accelerate the development of FinTech startups, Catalyst Fund’s investments have crossed over to the AgTech sector in the last few years. The philanthropic grant fund, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, supports investments in all parts of the world. In developing countries, many of these investments have been directed at agricultural FinTech, including:
- Asaak – a mobile lending service that enable farmers to access funding
- payAgri – an agricultural ecosystem to support the supply chain
- Harvesting – a software to help farmers manage risk through data collection
Tackling one of the crucial pain points of agriculture, the Catalyst Fund is backing Square Peg Capital
Investing in technology companies in Australia, Israel, and the Middle East, Square Peg Capital provides funding to start-ups in the A and B funding rounds. While tech is their target, Square Peg Capital are only recently reaching out into the AgTech sector. Leading two funding rounds for Climacell, a weather prediction software, Square Peg Capital managed to secure the AgTech start-up $63m in total funding.
Now turning their hand to blockchain, Square Peg Capital have plowed $5.5m into AgriDigital, a grain management software.
SKS Capital is not an agricultural investment firm; the company focuses on funding projects that advance storage, semiconductors, and education. That said, storage and management of goods in one of the major operational pieces in the agricultural supply chain. Recognizing the benefits of leveraging blockchain in supply chains, SKS Capital recently invested $3.4m into Bext360, a global blockchain supply chain solution. Bext360 is targeting the agricultural market as one of their main disruption points.
Y Combinator is a Silicon Valley-based start-up accelerator with a penchant for disruptive tech. Not simply content with putting money into companies, Y Combinator extends its catalog of expert skills to new companies through its 3-month incubation program. Sector-agnostic, Y Combinator has joined hands with several AgTech ventures, including:
- SKS CapitalC16 Bioscience – a palm oil brewing technology
- Spate – a predictive analytics software for consumer packaged products
- Kisan Network – a tech-enabled supply chain solution for Indian farmers
Taking an interest in blockchain technology, the company have also backed Agritech blockchain insurance company, Worldcover.
The world’s biggest tech investor, Techstars has a dedicated Farm-to-Fork program to boost young Agritech companies. The fund emerged through a partnership with Cargill and Ecolab and has backed a plethora of Agritech projects.
Companies selected provide solutions that target waste reduction, traceability, production, manufacturing, and supply chain management. Previous alumni include:
- BigWheelbarrow – a platform to connect farms, distributors, and retailers
- Tradelines – a digital, automatic supply chain management system
- Spoonshot – an AI food development production platform
Never falling behind, Techstars are already delving into blockchain, with Otrafy (a Melbourne-based supply change management platform) joining this season’s Farm-to-Fork program.
Branding itself as the ‘Top Good and Ag Tech Accelerator’, Terra Accelerator focuses only on the food and agriculture sectors, and how they’re impacted by tech. Using cross-disciplinary expertise, they mentor founders as well as providing investment.
Terra Accelerator have been investing in AgTech blockchain for a while, having backed projects such as:
- TE-FOOD – the largest global farm-to-table traceability system based on blockchain
- Provenance – a blockchain and IoT supply chain monitoring system
- Ripe.io – a supply chain management software
3 Investors Likely to Back AgTech Blockchain Soon
The top food business accelerator in the world, FOOD-X is already channeling significant funding into the agriculture, food, and technology sectors. Assisting founders both as mentors and investors, FOOD-X have already partnered with some notable agriculture tech companies, such as EIO Diagnostics, multispectral imaging for udder health; FreshSurety, sensor monitoring for contamination and food waste; and Wasteless, a tagging system to reduce waste in the supply chain.
Syngenta Ventures is a global investor in the agricultural industry. Not confined to tech investment, Syngenta Ventures has only recently started dipping its toe into next-generation tech. Recent AgTech investment have included Phytech, a direct plant sensing technology; AgWorld, a farm management software; and Blue River Tech, smart agricultural equipment. With their slant toward IoT, Big Data, and supply chain management, it would make sense for blockchain to be their next move.
Where there’s tech, there’s Andressen Horowitz. The famous tech investor has a broad portfolio across all sectors. While the company has invested in AgTech quite significantly, it has still not broadened into blockchain-based AgTech. Farming and agriculture tech projects it has supported include Granular, a farm management software; Solum, a soil testing technology; AgLocal, an ecommerce platform for antibiotic an chemical-free meat, and Farm Logs, a crop management software.