technology

14. Indigo Ag

Persephone Kavallines

Founders: David Berry, Geoffrey von Maltzahn, Noubar Afeyan
CEO: Ron Hovsepian
Launched: 2014
Headquarters: Boston
Funding:
$1.1 billion (PitchBook)
Valuation: $3.5 billion
Key technologies:
Artificial intelligence, machine learning
Industry:
Agriculture
Previous appearances on Disruptor 50 List: 3 (No. 3 in 2020)

In the world history of disruptive forces, long before Silicon Valley existed, agriculture ranks near the top of the list. Cities and civilizations depended on breakthroughs in food production, and over thousands of years, not much has changed. Farming and crop production technology remain at the epicenter of human survival and ingenuity.

From simple cross-breeding through the "green revolution" in high-yield seeds of the 1960s to the genetically modified plants that have taken over fields around the globe since the 1990s (and continue to attract controversy), technology on the farm is critical to how we feed the billions in the world population, which is expected to grow by a billion more in the decade ahead. The latest agtech efforts reflect a world that is constantly in need of new and better crop techniques.

Indigo Ag brings to the farmer the power of microbiology and technology to make agriculture a more sustainable and profitable business. Its core seed tech is a non-GMO treatment for corn, wheat, soybeans, rice and cotton which can maximize yields while offering other benefits, such as reducing water and nitrogen fertilizer use, as well as reducing use of fungicides and other chemicals, cutting costs and environmental impact.

The company has pushed further into climate technology and greenhouse gas emissions reduction, raising 2020's largest agtech venture money, over $500 million, including a big round to help farmers capture carbon and sell carbon credits. In the U.S., agriculture is the fifth-largest source of carbon emissions among economic sectors, representing 10% of greenhouse gases from industry (though that include livestock operations).

Indigo Ag's ambitions are widespread. It uses satellite imagery to monitor fields, soil conditions and the weather from space, and data analytics to interpret that "living map of the world's food system," as the company calls it. Indigo Ag also moved into the crop sales market a few years ago through Indigo Marketplace, connecting grain growers with buyers willing to pay for premium crops.

The pandemic has increased interest in new food and farming solutions. Agricultural start-ups attracted $5 billion in venture funding last year across more than 400 deals, according to a recent study from Finistere Ventures and Pitchbook, including Indigo Ag's leading rounds.

Indigo Ag's board of directors added a corporate name in 2020 that has become well known within the past year for its impact on a changing world, Moderna's CEO Stéphane Bancel. Both companies were incubated by Boston-based Flagship Pioneering.

There have been some concerns that the company is taking on too much. Long-time CEO David Perry left late last year and was replaced by a Flagship Pioneering executive who was on Indigo's board and served as its chief operating officer, Ron Hovsepian. Shortly before leaving, Perry told AgFunder News, "The hardest thing for us is execution," and he described its operations as really being "five startups in one place. We have to be able to manage all five of those even as we are growing really fast."

Contributed by Eric Rosenbaum

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