After announcing Amazon’s plans to gobble up Whole Foods for $13.7 billion, CEO Jeff Bezos is stepping further into the fresh foods market by investing in a vertical farming startup called Plenty Inc.
Plenty announced yesterday that it raised $200 million in Series B funding in what the company calls the largest agricultural technology investment of all time. This is a huge jump from the $24.5 million Plenty raised in 2016.
SoftBank Vision Fund led the investment along with six other backers including Bezos Expeditions and Innovation Endeavors, a venture capital firm backed by Alphabet’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt.
Since Plenty CEO Matt Barnard founded the startup in 2014 with Nate Storey and Nate Mazonson, the company has expanded rapidly. It acquired Bright Agrotech, a vertical farming technology startup, last month and has grown to nearly 60 employees. As part of the latest investment round, SoftBank Vision Fund Managing Director, Jeffrey Housenbold, will join Plenty’s board.
In the past, vertical farming investments haven’t panned out — Local Garden Vancouver, a similar crop-yielding greenhouse concept, declared bankruptcy a few years ago and other startups in the space have struggled over the years.
Plenty seems to be different because rather than growing horizontal plants stacked above each other, Plenty grows its crops vertically with the plants growing outward instead of up. Although the company hasn’t revealed much about its methods, Plenty says it plans to use machine learning and climate creation technology without having to genetically modify its seeds.
‘Our technology is uniquely capable of growing super clean food with no pesticides nor GMOs while cutting water consumption by 99 percent, making locally-grown produce possible anywhere,” Barnard said in a news release.
So far, Bezos has not commented on his investment.