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Image credit: David Lee

Former Impossible Foods CFO David Lee launches new startup, Inevitable Tech, to be ‘the AI for agtech’

May 15, 2023

  • Agrifood veteran David Lee and several other industry leaders have joined forces to launch a B2B agtech startup called Inevitable Tech.
  • The new company has developed a proprietary hardware-software grow system for use in both controlled environment agriculture (CEA) settings and open fields.
  • Inevitable says it uses a combination of AI, automation, and plant sciences to help growers manage plant health and overall operations.
  • The company’s first product will be a “clean propagation system” to ensure healthier, higher-quality plants.

De-fragmenting the food system

The current food system is hugely fragmented, says Lee, whose resume includes stints at Impossible Foods, Del Monte Foods, and AppHarvest, to name a few.

He and his team created Inevitable to address these silos as well as some of the biggest problems the food system faces: food waste and loss up and down the supply chain, a lack of visibility into worker productivity on the farm and the impacts of climate change.

“The idea was to serve a common need so as to break through these silos,” Lee notes. “How do you get more predictive on pathogens, how do you improve yield and reduce waste to us? Every product we offer, whether it’s the software system, the full stack, the AI or propagated crop, has to solve those three pillars.”

Lee is joined by an agrifood super-group of sorts that includes fellow Impossible veterans Myra Pasek, now Inevitable’s chief legal officer, and Nikki Mostafavi, the new company’s CFO.

The team also includes SVP of operations Lucianne Kempton, formerly of Procter & Gamble, and VP of engineering Tom Kendall, who previously worked at CEA firm Iron Ox. Rounding things out are head of software and data Lucas Ramadan, who has worked as a synthetic chemist for the USDA, and former head of growing operations at Bowery, Patricia Romero, now Inevitable’s VP of plant science.

A clean propagation system

While some specifics about the company’s proprietary tech stack are still under wraps. Lee says it is a “full-stack hardware-software system” that leverages automation and AI to boost plant growth and quality.

Inevitable Tech’s first product is a “clean propagation” system to foster healthier seedlings the company can then sell to growers.

Companies will also be able to license the technology itself, so that growers can produce seedlings locally and/or onsite of their own operations.

The latter has especially big implications, given that the US currently imports the vast majority of much of its fresh produce. For example, imports from Mexico account for the bulk of US tomato, cucumber and pepper plants. While the USDA has regulations around importing propagative material, the reality is that transporting seeds and plants increases the risk of pathogens, pests and other dangers that impact yield and sometimes wipe out entire harvests.

Making seedling production more local could vastly reduce these risks, says Lee, in addition to reducing emissions, since the company wouldn’t have to transport seedlings.

By way of example, Lee describes a scenario where growers and workers can all view seed growth via their phones: where in the growth cycle plants are, how the plants are being fed, what future propagated seedlings will look like. This information is sharable across the entire company and, eventually, throughout different components of the supply chain.

Having this real-time plant data enables “early identification of pathogens and also allows customers have confidence in where the crop was grown,” says Lee.

So far, Inevitable has “established development partnerships with CEA companies like Revol Greens and AppHarvest,” he adds.

The Inevitable future of AI

Propagation is just the start of things, says Lee. “It is just a just a data acquisition strategy; the aim is not to be a high-quality, high-tech seedling company. It’s to be AI for ag.”

“Right now, everyone’s talking about artificial intelligence. The hard reality is, while AI is real, it’s not functional unless you have a big data set,” he adds.

Farms — whether outdoors or in massive CEA environments — typically have “people constantly walking up and down surveying plants but there’s no tracking of the fundamental data because there’s no system [with which] to do it,” says Lee.

He lays out the following future scenario for what Inevitable hopes to accomplish:

“Imagine a farm where there is a digital map of everything that is is growing, that’s dynamic and evolving. Imagine every frontline worker with a handheld device.”

These workers could use near-field tagging to report which task they were executing on which row of the crop. The system could also identify a farm’s most productive workers, so they could be rewarded, spot early pathogens and even predict issues due to adverse environmental conditions, inadequate irrigation, and unbalanced nutrients.

“Imagine how much data in the course of a week, a day, a month, a year, AI could mine,” says Lee, who adds that a system like Inevitable Tech’s has use cases far beyond the food industry. In retail, for example, it could assist with streamlining the hiring process during holiday surges.

For now, many of these capabilities are for the sometime in the future, says Lee. Inevitable Tech will stick with food for the future in order to collect as much data as possible.

“If you don’t get adoption and you don’t get data, you don’t have a business,” he says. “That’s why we’re starting with this advanced propagation system.

And while we have grand aspirations, we aren’t startups of yesteryear that talk about that grand aspiration without having a very clear area of focus and business each day.”

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