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Image credit: Sentera

Sentera closes $25m Series C round to scale its digital platform for agronomists

June 9, 2021

Disclosure: AgFunder (AFN’s parent company) is an investor in Sentera. Find out more about AgFunder’s portfolio here.

Sentera today announced a $25 million Series C financing co-led by Canadian pension fund manager Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec and US agrifoodtech VC S2G Ventures.

Also joining the round were new investors Baltimore-based Akroyd LLC and Mexico City-based KuE Capital, as well as existing investors Continental Grain Company, iSelect Fund, and Middleland Capital, all from the US.

“We were at an inflection point where we historically had been an imagery-based analytics software platform. Our desire was to broaden that and bring other sources of agronomic data into our platform,” CEO Eric Taipale tells AFN.

“If we are going to be able to afford that and execute that strategy, we had to do a raise. The timing was perfect for us.”

The Minneapolis-based startup supplies integrated remote sensing, analytics, and IoT solutions to agronomists through a subscription-based service. It claims that its technology makes it easier for users to integrate field data, as well as data from satellites, drones, and soil and weather sensors, with a variety of different digital ag platforms – including those used by 80% of growing operations across North America.

Sentera’s main product, FieldAgent, is designed to rapidly detect plant nutrition and health issues. FieldAgent insights can be visualized through the platform’s myriad analytics and reporting features – such as stand count, tassel count, weed maps, nutrition reporting, and carbon and sustainability scoring, among others.

Targeting agronomists, already well accustomed to such data, has helped Sentera move more quickly in terms of growth, according to Taipale. But now the startup is focusing more on the user experience it offers.

“The agronomist cares about the data insight. And, to be honest, maybe it gave us some license to do less on usability,” he says.

“In the early days, we were providing techincal insight that was very valuable. Now, there is no forgiveness for lack of usability. We had to overcome that.”

Scaling the smart way

With product-market fit figured out, Sentera has set its sights on scaling. The startup is steadily building its global user base, and claims its platform covers “millions of acres” in more than 70 countries and is also in use at nearly 100 universities and research institutes.

Last year, Sentera caught the attention of the world’s largest beer company. AB InBev is now working with the startup to enhance its SmartBarley platform, which the brewer’s agronomists and growers use to gain insights from aerial imagery.

“We are in the top five largest ag retailers. We’ve got multiple food and [consumer goods] customers. But we know even with our current customers that the total reach of not only Sentera, but digital ag [as a whole], is still really low,” Taipale says.

As it sets out on its scaling mission, the startup plans to focus on the customers it already has on its books by encouraging broader use of the platform across their whole enterprises. 

“We want to make sure that, as we broaden, we don’t go too far,” Taipale says.

“There’s a temptation to get into grain marketing or fintech. What keeps us awake at night is figuring out how to be broad enough to be compelling as a standalone offer, but to stay in our lane as a digital insights provider in the field.”

If Sentera does expand its offerings, Taipale believes the most likely route will be through partnerships instead of in-house investments. 

Instead of trying to provide an entire marketplace for something like carbon credits, for example, Sentera is looking at how its existing technology can add value to players already in the space. This includes calculating carbon sequestration and integrating industry-standard sustainability models into its analytics.

In the meantime, Taipale and team are concentrating on Sentera’s continued growth in an industry that is becoming more comfortable with digital tech solutions.

“I think there are enough stories at the coffee shop or word of mouth – everybody knows somebody who has tried automated stand counts or selective herbicide application. So, I think some of the skepticism around digital ag was well-earned, but it has been removed because there are a lot of success stories from growers that get shared,” he says.

“Customer willingness doesn’t concern us anymore. We can show the proof points. Now, it’s about making sure we’re executing the correct strategy for the next few years.”

Rob Leclerc, partner at AgFunder — which invested in an earlier Sentera fundraise — said the startup has built “a unique full-stack solution of hardware and software that makes them the best in the business.”

“Going forward we see them creating immense value for growers and food companies to better manage their farms,” he added.

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