US-based IUNU (pronounced “you knew”), which makes computer vision and AI solutions for controlled environment agriculture (CEA), has raised $24 million in a Series B round led by Lewis & Clark AgriFood.
Existing investors S2G Ventures, Ceres Partners, and Astanor Ventures also participated. The round brings iUNU’s total funding to date to $60 million.
Founded in 2013, IUNU is developing a suite of hardware and software solutions for indoor farming, with an initial focus on greenhouses. The idea is to digitalize the entire crop management process for indoor growers and help them catch things the human eye can’t in order to ensure higher crop quality and yield.
- Its LUNA system uses fixed and moving cameras, as well as sensors, to track plant growth and health in CEA environments.
- It then analyzes this data to create growth models and recommendations for growers around yield prediction, labor, inventory, and insurance, among other things.
- IUNU says it works with three-quarters of of the top greenhouses producing leafy greens in North America.
- It acquired pest management consultancy CropWalk and CEA analytics platform Artemis in 2021.
Why it matters:
Innovation in CEA is all about driving greater efficiencies in production; one focal point in that regard is automation.
- According to IUNU, current CEA operating standards accept plant losses of 10% to 20%.
- The Seattle-based startup claims its “truly autonomous system” can cut that number in half.
It will use the Series B funding to expand its suite of products to address a variety of customers needs, from nutrient delivery to scalability.
“We see a world in which people want to have a ‘go-to’ greenhouse technology or solutions provider that is able to solve a whole host of their problems for them, not just one,” CEO Adam Greenberg told AFN.
- Capital will also go towards scaling up the business to handle more customers and hiring for a variety of positions in sales, engineering, human resources, and other functions.
- IUNU is chiefly focused on North America for now; it’s currently evaluating potential partners for eventual expansion to Europe.
What they say:
Adam Greenberg, CEO, IUNU
“I think there’s a misunderstanding when a lot of people use the phrase ‘autonomous greenhouse,’ and there are no true autonomous greenhouses in production today […] You have to put the plant at the center of the feedback loop and optimize for every plant because of so many microclimates [in the greenhouse]. But you also have to do it often, and you have to do it in a way that’s both comprehensive and hands-off.”
Allison Kopf, chief marketing officer and head of data products, IUNU; co-founder, Artemis
“We’re at a place right now where greenhouses and vertical farms control a lot of risk: climate risk, the risk of some pests. But you’re not eliminating all risk until the concept of autonomy is fully introduced. You have folks focusing on autonomy when it comes to robotics and harvesting and systems [but] we think about it reducing risk wherever possible in the business itself. That includes forecasting, matching up sales to demand to production volumes, planning for labor at the right time, and even financing.”
The bigger picture:
According to data from AgFunder, Novel Farming Systems — a category which includes CEA — was the second-highest funded category of agtech ventures worldwide in 2020 [disclosure: AgFunder is AFN‘s parent company.]
However, with events such as publicly traded greenhouse operator AppHarvest seeing its stock price nosedive and vertical farming company AeroFarms cancelling its own $1.2 billion reverse-merger IPO last year, some commentators have suggested that CEA has entered the Gartner hype cycle‘s “trough of disillusionment.”
The team at IUNU believes it can change some of the negative sentiment surrounding the industry. “Our goal is to not just get market share but also to help the market expand, and actually to make a market and physically expand acreage over time,” Kopf told AFN.
“By putting in [data-based] systems that allow you to have third-party system of record, you’re able to fundamentally shift the economics and the greenhouse industry,” Greenberg said. “That allows you to be able to become more competitive in more markets, which increases the [size of the] industry, the demand, and total greenhouse product – which then increases the requirement to build.”
Vertical farming should be one instrument in a farmer’s toolbox, not the whole operation or the farmer’s competition