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Uber CEO, Temasek invest in urban farming startup
[SAN FRANCISCO] Bowery Farming Inc, a two-year-old startup that uses robotics to cultivate crops indoors, is on track for more growth. The New York-based company plans to announce on Wednesday that it raised US$90 million from investors including Alphabet Inc's GV and Uber Chief Executive Officer Dara Khosrowshahi, said Bowery's co-founder and CEO, Irving Fain. The company declined to provide its valuation.
Bowery is part of a new crop of agriculture technology startups growing leafy greens in controlled environments near cities. Last year, Plenty, a San Francisco-based vertical farming company, raised US$200 million from the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank Group Corp's Vision Fund.
Bowery grows its veggies in layers of sensor-rich trays that move and react to humidity, carbon dioxide and light. One square foot of Bowery's indoor farm is 100 times more productive than an equivalent plot of arable land, Bowery says. Plenty makes similar claims.
Part of the urgency of Bowery's business plan is the prospect of looming global food shortages. The United Nations says food production will need to double in the next three decades to feed the planet's swelling population. Bowery and its ilk see a business opportunity in building massive indoor farms in and on the outskirts of cities - a costly proposition, but one that could cut down on waste and ensure fresher produce.
"This round is solid validation for the scope of the problem and the opportunity," said Mr Fain. To date, Bowery has raised US$118 million from investors including First Round Capital and General Catalyst.
GV, formerly Google Ventures, led the most recent investment, which includes funding from Singapore's state investment firm, Temasek Holdings Pte.
Mr Fain said Uber's Khosrowshahi became an investor because of his interest in futuristic cities. "Uber is a big believer in cities and the importance of sustainable cities," said Mr Fain.
Bowery currently operates two indoor farms in Kearny, New Jersey. The facilities send greens like kale, bok choy and butterhead lettuce to Whole Foods and salad chain Sweetgreen. Mr Fain said the fresh funding will be used to open new farms in the US and internationally.
Bowery declined to disclose how many new farms are in the works or where they would be located. "There is no question that we intend to have our farms in cities across the world," Mr Fain said.
Andy Wheeler, a Bowery board member and partner at GV, echoed Mr Fain's global expansion ambitions. "The company is poised to have a significant impact on the global produce market," he said.
Bowery is planning to expand its headcount too, Mr Fain said. The company employs 65 people. Some of these employees could come from Amazon, Mr Fain suggested. Though competition for talent will likely be tough as the e-commerce giant ramps up hiring for its new office in New York.
This year, Bowery hired Brian Donato, a former senior operator of Amazon Fresh and Pantry food delivery services; Scott Horoho, a former senior Amazon engineering manager; and Jeff Raines, a former director of data center engineering for Amazon Web Services.