InnerPlant, a company developing living plant sensors, raised $5.65 million in combined pre-seed and seed funding to derive data directly from plants so farmers can have better crop risk management and food supply chains.
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MS&AD Ventures led the round and was joined by Bee Partners, UpWest and TAU Ventures.
Shely Aronov and Rod Kumimoto founded the San Francisco-based company in 2018, which uses R&D and a safe protein to enable plants to send out signals on their thirst and nutrient levels and even if they are being attacked by pests. These signals can then be seen using optical filters on devices, such as smartphones and satellites, CEO Aronov told Crunchbase News.
InnerPlant debuted its first product, the InnerTomato, in 2020 and is currently developing additional crops, such as InnerSoy and InnerCotton.
“We started with physical sensors on the leaves of tomato plants, and once we analyzed the scale of farming, we began creating optical signals that can be made from satellites,” Aronov said. “Our plants produce a new protein that can be detected from a spectrometer or camera.”
Currently, InnerPlant is agnostic about the collection method, although Aronov said using satellites helps with the scale of fields, but farmers can choose to collect the data from drones or planes. The company is also developing sensors so farmers can track the data from their tractors — a way to gather data on an individual plant level in a way satellites can’t, she said.
Farmers face many challenges, such as climate change and growing populations, and can struggle to produce more food, thus relying more heavily on pesticides. InnerPlant’s technology arms farmers with data for earlier detection of a plant’s needs, enabling them to be more proactive in controlling pathogens that can harm up to 20 percent of harvests, she added.
Aronov has two goals for the new funding: To accelerate the business and work on R&D to get the InnerSoy and InnerCotton products to market.
“The tomatoes are proof-of-concept plants, but in the commercial market soybeans and cotton have a bigger scale — there are more acres to transform, and as a result, more impact,” she added. “We plan to provide seed technology within the seeds and hope to have something there soon. We are also starting to work with farmers and get them on board with this process so they can give feedback.”
In the past year, the company added four people to its team of 10 and will likely add another two this year. In addition, InnerPlant closed on laboratory space in Davis, California, to build a greenhouse. It also was granted its first patent and will soon have another, Aronov said.
MS&AD Ventures’ Managing Partner Jon Soberg said MS&AD is the venture arm of Japan-based MS&AD Insurance Group, which will have $250 million in assets under management by this summer and invests in companies of interest for insurance. He learned about the company through existing relationships with Bee Partners and UpWest.
“When they mentioned InnerPlant, it stuck out for me,” he said in an interview. “InnerPlant is essentially a data platform, and for insurance purposes that data doesn’t exist, but we think this is what everyone wants to see. Shely and team have a special capability and unique skills that others are not doing.”
Feature photo of Shely Aronov, co-founder and CEO of InnerPlant, courtesy of InnerPlant.
Blogroll illustration: Dom Guzman
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