From analyzing millions of satellite images to finding healthy strains of plant microbiome, these startups have raised over $500M to bring AI and robotics to agriculture.
Agricultural tech startups have raised over $800M in the last 5 years. Deals to startups using robotics and machine learning to solve problems in agriculture started gaining momentum in 2014, in line with the rising interest in artificial intelligence across multiple industries like healthcare, finance, and commerce.
Smart money VCs like Bessemer Venture Partners, Accel Partners, Khosla Ventures, Lux Capital, and Data Collective have invested in general-purpose drone and computer vision companies with a focus on agricultural applications, like DJI and Orbital Insight, as well as ag tech startups like Blue River Technology. Big corporations like Monsanto and Syngenta, which are active ag tech investors, have also backed companies like Resson and previously mentioned Blue River Technology.
“We’re going to have to figure out how to grow a lot more food on a lot less land and do it sustainably.” – Michael Stern, CEO of Climate Corp.
We used the CB Insights database to identify robotics and AI companies working in agriculture, and divided them into 5 broad categories depending on their area of focus:
Analyzing satellite imagery: Analyzing satellite images provides a macro-level understanding of agricultural practices. Geo-spatial data can provide information on crop distribution patterns across the globe and the impact of weather changes on agriculture, among other applications. Startups here are using machine learning and computer vision algorithms to classify data and extract meaningful information from millions of such satellite images.
Orbital Insight has raised $78.7M in totally funding, including a $50M Series C round in Q1’17 backed by investors including Lux Capital, Sequoia Capital, and Google Ventures. Their solutions for agriculture includes a model for predicting crop yield.
In-field monitoring: This category includes drone manufactures with a focus on agriculture, as well as startups working on computer vision algorithms to process the data captured by drones and other on-field cameras.
Drone manufacturing startups focused on tasks like site inspection and surveying for industries like agriculture and construction saw 41 deals last year — the largest number of deals among the enterprise robotics categories in 2016 — up from 22 in 2015.
On the software side, companies like Prospera use deep learning-based computer vision technology for monitoring crops in real time.
Assess crop and soil heat: Startups here are using machine learning to predict the effect of various microbes on plant health (Indigo Agriculture) and identify genetic mutations in pathogens that may be harmful for the plant, among other things.
In Q2’17, Benson Hill Biosystems raised $25M in Series C. The startup uses a cognitive engine, CropOS, to identify genetic pathways in plants that can improve photosynthesis. In Q3’16, Massachusetts-based Indigo raised a $100M Series C round from the Alaska Permanent Fund and Flagship Pioneering.
Agricultural robots: This category includes ground robots that perform various agricultural tasks.
Blue River Technology is developing robots that use computer vision to “see and spray” at weeds on cotton plants. The National Science Foundation grantee is backed by smart money VCs Data Collective and Khosla Ventures.
Another startup, Abundant Robotics, which spun out of SRI International last year, raised $10M from investors like Google Ventures and Yamaha Motor Ventures to develop apple-picking robots.
Predictive analytics: Startups here are using machine learning models for agricultural R&D, seasonal analysis, modeling different market scenarios, and optimizing business costs, among other applications.
Spain-based ec2ce raised $1M in Q1’17. Colorado-based aWhere raised $7M from AgFunder, Aravaipa Ventures, and Elixir Capital in Q3’14, and a $3M convertible note round the following year.
|Company||Category||Select Investors||Total Funding ($M)|
|Abundant Robotics||Agricultural robots||Comet Labs, Google Ventures, KPCB Edge, SRI International, Tellus Partners, Yamaha Motor Ventures||$10.00|
|Agri Eye||In-field monitoring||1991 Open Data Incubator||$0.15|
|Airwood Aerostructures||In-field monitoring||StartupXseed Ventures|
|Benson Hill Biosystems||Crop/soil health analysis||Alexandria Venture Investments, BioGenerator, Cultivation Capital, Fall Line Capital, iSelect Fund, Lewis & Clark Ventures, Mercury Fund, Middleland Capital, Missouri Technology Corporation, National Corn Growers Association, Prelude Ventures, Prolog Ventures, S2G Ventures, Technology Acceleration Partners||$34.21|
|Blue River Technology||Agricultural robots||Data Collective, Innovation Endeavors, Khosla Ventures, Monsanto Growth Ventures, National Science Foundation, Pontifax, Stanford Angels & Entrepreneurs, Steve Blank, Syngenta Ventures, Ulu Ventures||$30.75|
|Clearpath Robotics||Agricultural robots||Caterpillar Ventures, Eclipse Ventures, GE Ventures, iNovia Capital, Public Works and Government Services Canada, RRE Ventures, Silicon Valley Bank||$40.79|
|DJI Innovations||In-field monitoring||Accel Partners, Sequoia Capital China||$105.00|
|Descartes Labs||Satellite image analysis||Correlation Ventures, Crosslink Capital, Cultivian Sandbox, DARPA, Data Collective, New Mexico Economic Development Department, TenOneTen Ventures, ValueStream||$8.38|
|FarmShots||Satellite image analysis||Y Combinator||$1.77|
|Farmbot||Agricultural robots||muru-D, SYD Ventures||$0.07|
|Gamaya||In-field monitoring||Foundation for Technological Innovation, Seed4Equity, VI Partners||$3.72|
|GeoVisual Analytics||Predictive analytics||AI Capital, Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, NASA, SVG Ventures, Taylor Farms, THRIVE Accelerator||$1.27|
|HUVRData||In-field monitoring||Central Texas Angel Network, Houston Angel Network||$2.00|
|Harvest CROO||Agricultural robots||NA||$1.71|
|HoneyComb Corp.||In-field monitoring||Oregon BEST, Portland Seed Fund, Prosper Portland||$0.46|
|Indigo Agriculture||Crop/soil health analysis||Alaska Permanent Fund, Flagship Pioneering||$163.50|
|OmniEarth||Satellite image analysis||Space Angels Network, Weather Analytics||$5.16|
|Optimal||Predictive analytics||Entrepreneur First||$0.01|
|Orbital Insight||Satellite image analysis||Balyasny Asset Management, Bloomberg Beta, citizen.vc, CME Ventures, Envision Ventures, Geodesic Capital, Google Ventures, In-Q-Tel, Intellectus Partners, ITOCHU Corporation, Lux Capital, Sequoia Capital||$78.70|
|PEAT||Crop/soil health analysis||Atlantic Labs, Merck Accelerator||$0.06|
|PrecisionHawk||In-field monitoring||Bob Young, DuPont, Innovate Indiana Fund, Intel Capital, Millennium Technology Value Partners, NTT DoCoMo Ventures, USAA, Verizon Ventures, Yamaha Motor Ventures||$29.00|
|Prospera||In-field monitoring||Bessemer Venture Partners||$7.00|
|Raptor Maps||In-field monitoring||Commercial Drone Fund, Y Combinator||$0.72|
|Resson||In-field monitoring||BDC Capital, BDC Venture Capital, Build Ventures, East Valley Ventures, Monsanto Growth Ventures, New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, Rho Canada||$14.00|
|SkySquirrel Technologies||In-field monitoring||Innovacorp, The Pearse Lyons Accelerator – Alltech||$1.02|
|Trace Genomics||Crop/soil health analysis||Fall Line Capital, Illumina Accelerator, Illumina Ventures, Refactor Capital, Terra, THRIVE Accelerator, Viking Global Investors||$4.12|
|aWhere||Predictive analytics||AgFunder, Aravaipa Ventures, Elixir Capital||$12.45|
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