Ripe for Investment: Looking Back on Trends and Opportunities in the AgTech Space
For businesses and entrepreneurs operating or seeking to operate in the agricultural technology space (or “agtech” or “agritech” for short), opportunities for funding from both private and public sectors have never been so abundant. This article provides an overview of market trends and opportunities that took place before the new year, in addition to general considerations that may be relevant for future market entrants.
Private Sector Growth
According to a review published by a US-based venture capital firm specializing in agriculture named Finistere, start-ups operating in the food and agricultural space garnered an unprecedented $22.3 billion in venture financing in 2020, about twice as much as what was made available in 2019. Of this $22.3 billion, $5 billion was injected in the agricultural technology sector alone, by way of 416 completed financing rounds.
The report considers COVID as a catalyst for this change. Cognizant that consumers were forced by circumstance to dine-in rather than dine-out, entrepreneurs and investors alike moved to design and deploy e-commerce platforms and applications to facilitate the delivery of agricultural commodities like fresh produce, meal kits, or fully prepared meals.
Of the $5 billion invested in AgTech, $1.3 billion was invested in “indoor ag”, or indoor agriculture, where investors favoured companies that developed integrated technology systems for use in an indoor environment. An example of such a company is AeroFarms, which obtained $531.5 million in late-stage financing. Per an article published by Blue Book Services, Aerofarms deploys proprietary technology, consisting of intelligent controls, sensors, and data insights, to create a “fully connected and digitally controlled farm” which yields annual productivity “390 greater than traditional field farming, while using up to 95% less water and zero pesticides”. Other entities operating in the space similarly seek to disrupt traditional farming, and use insights gleaned from data and data analytics to maximize crop yield via automated irrigation, nutrient delivery, and lighting systems.
US based companies are not the only ones to receive attention by way of sizable investments. In March of 2019, Vancouver-based Semios announced CAD $9.9 million in funding from Sustainable Development Canada; soon thereafter, in February 2020, Semios announced US $75M in funding to expand its intelligent network systems in agriculture. Semios offers a smart platform that is informed by sensory data to minimize crop shrink due to pests, illness, and inclement weather.
Similarly, in April of 2021, Vancouver-based Ostara announced the closing of financing for proceeds of US $20 Million. Ostara develops and deploys nutrient management solutions.
In the Canadian marketplace, the private sector is not the only source of funding for aspiring “agritechpreneurs”. In fact, substantial funding is available via numerous federal and provincial programs.
At the federal level, over a billion dollars has been allocated toward activities and programs designed to foster growth in the agricultural sector. Such programs include the “AgriMarketing Program”, a five-year $121 million initiative for the purpose of assisting for-profit organizations in their expansion to international markets via marketing and advertising efforts.
An additional $128 million is made available via Canada’s “AgriInnovate Program”, an initiative seeking to accelerate the creation or adoption of innovative technologies, products, and methods, including efforts to increase productivity via automation, robotics, or advanced manufacturing processes.
A $20.5 million program is also available, via a federal “AgriCompetitiveness Program”, to assist industry-led efforts to provide producers with additional resources, such as access to seminars, conferences, and management systems.
Further still, a $5 million “AgriDiversity Program” has been launched to support under-represented groups in the Canadian agricultural sector, including persons with disabilities, Indigenous Peoples, and women.
At the provincial level, efforts to support a burgeoning agricultural and agritech sector are underway as well. Here are some examples:
- Ontario: In April, 2021, Ontario announced a $25.5 million program aimed at increasing the adoption of technological innovations within the agri-food sector, with an aim to improve the health and safety of workers while also improving efficiency and productivity. A number of other programs, such as the Eastern Ontario Development Fund, provides funding support to businesses who endeavor to innovate their operations.
- Quebec: In October 2019, the Quebec government awarded Gestion AgrIA with $4.7 million to develop a predictive monitoring technology to maximize crop yields while minimizing pollution. Other sources of Quebec funding relevant for the agritech space include the Programme de partenariat pour l’innovation en agroalimentaire and the Programme Innov’Action agroalimentaire.
- British Columbia: The B.C. government also boasts a number of programs available to farmers and food processors for the purpose of supporting growth, innovation, and marketing objectives. The joint Canada-BC Agri-Innovation Program, for example, has provided more than $2.4 million to 14 projects. One of these projects include the undertakings of “Ecoation Innovative Solutions”, a recipient of $500,000 in funding, to develop an automated crop treatment system aimed at addressing pests without the use of pesticides via a proprietary robotics system.
- Saskatchewan: The Government of Saskatchewan announced in 2020 that it will be providing $15 million to organizations looking to develop new technologies in agriculture. This is separate from another initiative called the “Growth Fund”, where $1 million has been dedicated to accelerating developments in agtech.
Onward and Upward
While access to capital may be readily abundant, businesses looking to launch or grow must still be mindful of a myriad of equally important considerations. If a startup wishes to raise capital by way of private investment, serious consideration must be afforded to the amount, and the kind, of equity given to investors, as this may have repercussions on the desirability of future investors, partners, and even potential acquirers.
Should organizations prefer to go it alone, government subsidies and grants may appear as the desirable alternative, with the caveat that a number of prescribed qualifications must be met. The amounts available may also be significantly lower. Combinations of private and public funding may be the preferred choice for some entities, like in the case of Semios above.
No matter the source of funding or the size of the valuation, having a corporate or commercial lawyer in your corner can ensure that the right structures and agreements are set up to protect the interests of founders and shareholders alike – whether from the onset by setting up the right corporate structure with the right founder or shareholder agreements, or at the outset by negotiating the terms of a financing, partnership, or acquisition.
As with any business operating in the technology, agriculture, or plant science space, an organization must also exercise exceptionally strong legal hygiene in the realm of intellectual property. Organizations must ensure that their IP is protected, whether it be trademarks, patents, plant variety rights, or trade secrets. Working with an intellectual property or technology lawyer can ensure that such assets are secured, whether via the necessary registrations, or through the preparation of key agreements concerning confidentiality and the ownership of IP.
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If you have any questions about this article or wish to learn more, please contact Massimo Orsini, an associate at Oziel Law practicing in all things interesting and innovative.
Oziel Law communications and legal articles are intended for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. To obtain additional details or advice about a specific matter, please contact our lawyers.
- Blue Book Services, “AeroFarms breaks ground on world’s largest aeroponic indoor vertical farm”, April 30, 2021, online: <https://www.producebluebook.com/2021/04/30/aerofarms-breaks-ground-on-worlds-largest-aeroponic-indoor-vertical-farm/>.
- British Columbia, “Canada, B.C. support innovation on the farm”, published August 14, 2020, online: <https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020AGRI0047-001523>.
- Cision Newswire, “Semios Announces US$75M In Funding To Expand Largest IoT Network In Agriculture”, published February 18, 2020, online: <https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/semios-announces-us75m-in-funding-to-expand-largest-iot-network-in-agriculture-301006389.html>.
- Cision Newsire, “Quebec grants $4.7 million in funding to Gestion AgrIA for the first predictive and global monitoring technology and for higher crop yields with less pollution”, published October 19, 2019, online: <https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/quebec-grants-4-7-million-in-funding-to-gestion-agria-for-the-first-predictive-and-global-monitoring-technology-and-for-higher-crop-yields-with-less-pollution-846030088.html>.
- Finistere, “2020 Agrifood Tech Investment Review”, online: <https://finistere.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/Finistere-Ventures-2020-AgriFood-Tech-Investment-Review.pdf>.
- Globe News Wire, “Ostara Raises US$20 Million to Acquire Strategic Assets to Scale Up Crystal Green Fertilizer Production”, published April 19, 2021, online: <https://www.globenewswire.com/en/news-release/2021/04/19/2212438/0/en/Ostara-Raises-US-20-Million-to-Acquire-Strategic-Assets-to-Scale-Up-Crystal-Green-Fertilizer-Production.html>.
- Government of Canada, “AgriCompetitiveness Program: Step 1. What this program offers”, online: <https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agricultural-programs-and-services/agricompetitiveness-program/?id=1517335776475>.
- Government of Canada, “AgriDiversity Program: Step 1. What this program offers.”, online: <https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agricultural-programs-and-services/agridiversity-program/?id=1517326808755>.
- Government of Canada, “AgriInnovate Program”, online: <https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agricultural-programs-and-services/agriinnovate-program/?id=1515682916298>.
- Government of Canada, “AgriMarketing Program: Step 1. What this program offers”, online: <https://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/agricultural-programs-and-services/agrimarketing-program/?id=1515092171804>.
- Innovation Saskatchewan, “AGTechGrowth Fund”, online: <https://innovationsask.ca/research/AGF>.
- Laura Ehman for Semios, “Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) Doubles Down on Semios with Additional $9.9 Million Investment”, published March 4, 2019, online: <https://blog.semios.com/sdtc-invests-semios>.
- Ontario, “Eastern Ontario Development Fund”, online: <https://www.ontario.ca/page/eastern-ontario-development-fund>.
- Ontario, “Ontario Investing $25.5 Million in Technology to Protect Agri-Food Workers”, published April 21, 2021, online: <https://news.ontario.ca/en/release/61224/ontario-investing-255-million-in-technology-to-protect-agri-food-workers>.
- Quebec, “Programme Innov’Action agroalimentaire”, online: <https://www.mapaq.gouv.qc.ca/fr/Productions/md/programmesliste/RDinnovation/Pages/InnovActionagroalimentaire.aspx>.
- Quebec, “Programme de partenariat pour l’innovation en agroalimentaire”, online: <https://www.mapaq.gouv.qc.ca/fr/Productions/md/programmesliste/RDinnovation/Pages/Programme-partenariat-innovation-agroalimentaire.aspx>.
- Saskatchewan, “Saskatchewan Invests $15 Million in Agtech”, published August 13, 2020, online: <https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2020/august/13/agtech-investment>.