The world’s biggest agtech startup appears poised to grow even bigger this year with a multi-billion-dollar valuation just four years after launching out of Boston. (When we say “biggest”, we are using valuation to determine “biggest”. Valuation refers to what investors are willing to pay for shares when they invest, and consequently, these valuations will increase, decrease or stay the same, based on the latest funding round.)
PitchBook Data, a firm that provides research and data on private markets, recently reported that Indigo Ag is looking to raise up to $300 million, which would give it a valuation of $3.5 billion. Founded in 2014, Indigo has already reaped $359 million over five rounds (though the last was technically a continuation of a Series D that reached $203 million last year), according to Crunchbase. Pitchbook actually pegs equity funding slightly higher at $367 million. Either way, Indigo currently carries a $1.4 billion valuation, per both PitchBook and fellow data firm CB Insights.
Timing is everything. About a week after we published our list of top-funded agtech startups last September, Indigo doubled its war chest to surpass vertical farming startup Plenty Inc. as the world’s most well-funded agtech startup. Plenty has raised a total of $226 million, including a $200 million round in 2017 from free-spending SoftBank. In fact, last year was a good one for agtech, a broadly defined technology sector that includes everything from agricultural robots to Internet of Things aquaculture. Pitchbook says a record of $1.8 billion was invested in agtech companies last year over 221 deals.
Microbes for Crops
Riding that wave of investment is Indigo, which produces crop seeds—but not just any seeds. Their seeds are coated with microbes, tiny organisms that live in a symbiotic relationship with plants and soil, helping them stay healthy in less-than-ideal conditions such as drought. Currently, the company focuses on cotton, wheat, rice, corn and soybeans. We first profiled Indigo in our list of agtech startups keeping us fed.
Indigo doesn’t genetically modify the organisms but goes through a complex process to find the best bugs for the job. It uses sophisticated genomic sequencing and other methods to build an enormous database of genomic information for thousands of microbes. The company then applies algorithms and machine learning to predict which microbes are most beneficial to the plant’s health. The best and brightest bugs are then used in the company’s proprietary seed coatings.
Win for Wheat
Does it actually work? Just this month Indigo released the latest yield data for its second commercial season of growing Indigo Wheat (that’s trademarked, by the way). Across 24 wheat fields in three states (Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas), Indigo Wheat yielded 13 percent more than its conventional cousin. The numbers are even better when the researchers accounted for high-stress, low-yield conditions like droughts or intense heat. The average yield, in that case, was 19 percent better.
In one of those “meet the farmer” anecdotes, a grower in Oklahoma said Indigo Wheat yielded 33 bushels per acre (we think bushel is roughly equivalent to barrels of beer, but don’t quote us on that), while everything else on the property produced 15 to 20 bushels per acre. And that was over a season that experienced less than two inches of rain over six months....MORE