*This story was updated at 12:04 ET, Oct. 17 with additional comments from Vertical Future CEO Jamie Burrows
On a British Monopoly set, the most costly bit for your metallic thimble, dog, or battleship to land on has always been Mayfair. Away from board games, a stroll around this astronomically swanky part of London will take you past boutique shops, high-flying hedge funds, a fair few Russian oligarchs, and a sprinkling of luxury hotels like the Ritz — whose owners, incidentally, have just announced it could be all yours for a cool $1 billion.
Forget the Ritz; Mayfair could soon have its very own vertical farm too. In an interview with AFN, Vertical Future co-founder Jamie Burrows disclosed plans to bring one into the area. All going well, he said, the company, which he co-founded with his wife Marie-Alexandrine, should be in “by next March.”
Assisting these sorts of exploits, his company announced this week, is a £4 million ($5 million) seed round led by Earthworm – a London-based impact investor with a portfolio across food, energy and waste – and supported by corporate finance adviser, Acceleris Capital. Amberley Advisory and Gateley were also involved in the seed round. The startup said more investments are expected in the coming months.
Up north in Scotland, vertical farm tech startup Intelligent Growth Solutions recently expanded its Series A to £7m. Check out our coverage of it here.
Snapshot: About Vertical Future’s £4m seed round
Source: Acceleris Capital
According to an accompanying press release, the fundraise will “support the first phase of Vertical Future’s long-term, ambitious growth strategy.” Vertical Futures is shooting for a 25-times increase in crop production capacity across its London operations, aided by the development of two new ethical plant factories in London Fields and Mayfair, as well as further developing its existing site in Deptford.
The capital raised will also be used to strengthen Vertical Future’s ability to “produce significantly more crops as they target a 10-times increase in its B2B restaurant business as well as an expansion of the direct to customer business, both sold under the MiniCrops brand.” Its restaurant customers include Quaglino’s, Tom’s Kitchen, Mindful Chef, Chop’d, Kaleido, Sartoria, Lahpet, and over 100 other dining establishments across London.
“Vertical farming offers huge potential in solving one of the biggest issues of our time…”
“Foodtech can improve the sustainability of our food by transforming the way it is produced, increasing health-benefits and decreasing our carbon ‘foodprint’, and nowhere is this more essential than in urban areas,” said Jamie Burrows, Founder and CEO of Vertical Future, commenting on his startup’s raise.
“This is our first major move in this sector, building on three years of hard work and proof of concept. Sustainable food will be one of society’s biggest challenges in future years and we are at the forefront of the effort for better, long-lasting solutions,” said Lord Nigel Crisp, Non-Executive Board Member at Vertical Future. He also formerly served as Head of the National Health Service (NHS).
CEO of Earthworm, Ben Prior, said that the team at Vertical Future has a “very special business poised for growth”, adding that tech solution offers “huge potential in solving one of the biggest issues of our time – how to feed a growing population sustainably.”
Vertical farming continues to gain a lot of attention. One of AFN’s most-read stories last month was about Fifth Season coming ‘out of stealth’ with a 60k sqft vertical farm & $35m in funding. Check it out, here.
Surely, this Mayfair move will cost Vertical Future a king’s ransom?
Not at all, replies Burrows, who is currently negotiating the Mayfair site tenancy agreement and hinted at it being feasible due to a partnership that he declined to disclose. His current vertical farming operations are in Deptford and his company is planning to open another in London Fields in November, he said.
Investors and experts speaking to AFN at this week’s “Game-Changing Technologies for Agriculture,” organised by the Agri-Tech Team at the UK Department for International Trade (DIT), expressed some reservations about Vertical Future and other such operations, worrying about whether they would be able to live up to the hype, whether their tech could deliver, and even whether a husband and wife founder combination was the best way forward.
In response, Burrows said: “Every company in the world has needs to live up to their deliverables and ambitions. We are delighted with our substantial raise within the industry, with heavy-weight investors behind us. We believe that teams of this kind (husband and wife) are quite prevalent across the globe, many tech startups have been launched with couples – traditional farms have been “family-owned” for generations.
Know a vertical farming tech startup that we need to speak to? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.