Environment / Food and drink / Startups / Venture capital

Why Brooklyn’s top VC is placing a bet on indoor farming

“We know the distance between where food is grown and where it’s eaten needs to shrink,” Charlie O'Donnell said.

Baby arugula sprouts on floating burlap rafts. (Photo by Tyler Woods)

Agrilyst, the 2015 winner of the TechCrunch Disrupt NY battlefield, took the opportunity last week at Disrupt NY 2016 to announced that it had raised a million-dollar seed round.
The Downtown Brooklyn startup created a software as a service (SaaS) product for indoor farms, allowing growers to track maintenance, growth and other metrics. Agrilyst has been called “Google Analytics for greenhouses.”
The seed funding round, which Agrilyst cofounder Allison Kopf said was oversubscribed, was led by the Gowanus-based Brooklyn Bridge Ventures.

“It fits a profile of a lot of things I’m interested in,” said Charlie O’Donnell, the sole partner of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, in an interview in his new Gowanus office. “The founder had unique inference in the space.” (Kopf previously worked at the the greenhouse conglomerate BrightFarms.)

“It’s a play I’m seeing in a lot of other spaces,” he added. “Here you have someone running a farm who’s supposed to download CSVs and dump them into an Excel? To put all the data in one place and act on it is another level of intelligence that’s not available to farms.”

Another factor that makes Agrilyst attractive to O’Donnell is that he believes the trend toward locally produced food will continue.

“We know the distance between where food is grown and where it’s eaten needs to shrink,” he said. “We can’t keep shipping these long distances.”

Another consideration was climate change. The frequency of once-in-a-century storms and temperature swings have wreaked havoc on outdoor farming, O’Donnell said. He sees therefore a greater move toward greenhouses and indoor farming. It’s a trend Technical.ly has recently documented in Philly and Baltimore.

There are many plants which can be grown indoors. There’s one in particular that has huge growth potential and huge earnings potential. Basil, arguably the best of herbs, and one which is often grown indoors, goes for about $2 an ounce in New York. An ounce of high-quality marijuana goes for about $600 in New York (according to a pothead Brooklyn tech founder who answered that question for me on a hilariously serious guarantee of anonymity.)

O’Donnell is now significantly invested in the future of weed. In February he led a funding round for SeedCX, which aims to be the first commodities exchange for cannabis, allowing people to buy and sell futures contracts on the crop as they do for corn and wheat and any number of other crops.

“I’m confident that train has left the station and that we’re not suddenly going to go the other way on the cultivation of these plants for a variety of purposes,” O’Donnell wrote in February.

Companies: Brooklyn Bridge Ventures
Series: Brooklyn

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