Zwift, a 350-person, Long Beach, Calif.-based online fitness platform that immerses cyclists and runners in 3D generated worlds, just raised a hefty $ 450 million in funding led by the investment firm KKR in exchange for a minority stake in its business.
Permira and Specialized Bicycle’s venture capital fund, Zone 5 Ventures, also joined the round alongside earlier backers True, Highland Europe, Novator and Causeway Media.
Zwift has now raised $ 620 million altogether and is valued at north of $ 1 billion.
Why such a big round? Right now, the company just makes an app, albeit a popular one.
Since its 2015 founding, 2.5 million people have signed up to enter a world that, as Outside magazine once described it, is “part social-media platform, part personal trainer, part computer game.” That particular combination makes Zwift’s app appealing to both recreational riders and pros looking to train no matter the conditions outside.
The company declined to share its active subscriber numbers with us — Zwift charges $ 15 per month for its service — but it seemingly has a loyal base of users. For example, 117,000 of them competed in a virtual version of the Tour de France that Zwift hosted in July after it was chosen by the official race organizer of the real tour as its partner on the event.
Which leads us back to this giant round and what it will be used for. Today, in order to use the app, Zwift’s biking adherents need to buy their own smart trainers, which can cost anywhere from $ 300 to $ 700 and are made by brands like Elite and Wahoo. Meanwhile, runners use Zwift’s app with their own treadmills.
Now, Zwift is jumping headfirst into the hardware business itself. Though a spokesman for the company said it can’t discuss any particulars — “It takes time to develop hardware properly, and COVID has placed increased pressure on production” — it is hoping to bring its first product to market “as soon as possible.”
He added that the hardware will make Zwift a “more immersive and seamless experience for users.”
Either way, the direction isn’t a surprising one for the company, and we don’t say that merely because Specialized participated in this round as a strategic backer. Cofounder and CEO Eric Min has told us in the past that the company hoped to produce its own trainers some day.
Given the runaway success of the in-home fitness company Peloton, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a treadmill follow, or even a different product entirely. Said the Zwift spokesman, “In the future, it’s possible that we could bring in other disciplines or a more gamified experience.” (It will have expert advice in this area if it does, given that Swift just brought aboard Ilkka Paananen, the co-founder and CEO of Finnish gaming company Supercell, as an investor and board member.)
In the meantime, the company tells us not to expect the kind of classes that have proven so successful for Peloton, tempting as it may be to draw parallels.
While Zwift prides itself on users’ ability to organize group rides and runs and workouts, classes, says its spokesman, are “not in the offing.”
iFarm, a Finnish startup that provides innovative solutions for growing fresh greens, berries and vegetables, has raised around €3.3 million in funding. The round was led by Gagarin Capital, who also previously invested in the project. Other investors include Matrix Capital, Impulse VC, IMI.VC and several business angels.
The startup will use the funding to develop its iFarm Growtune tech platform that enables operations of multiple varieties of vertical farms and quadrupling the number of plants available to iFarm’s tech. In addition, iFarm will be optimizing its automated production lines to reduce labor costs and complete experiments with growing strawberries, cherry tomatoes, sweet peppers, radish and other crops.
Founded in 2017, iFarm has over 50 on-going projects with clients in Europe and the Middle East for 2020. That includes an industrial vertical farm based on iFarm’s tech that is due to launch in Finland by the end of the year. Its construction was funded through the company’s internal crowdfunding platform.
“Investors can participate in the worldwide network of vertical farms and receive a rate of return well above bank deposit rates”, says Alex Lyskovsky, co-founder and President of iFarm. “We already have a group of financial partners involved in the development of our farms, and now there is a direct opportunity for this type of investment in Finland, UK, Switzerland, Netherlands, Russia and UAE.”
iFarm’s automated vertical farm management technologies allow customers to start growing salads, greens, berries and vegetables in the urban environment: from empty warehouses and factory shops to basements and distribution centres. The technology is based on an adaptive protocol that includes computer vision, machine learning, the data about thousands of plants collected from a distributed network of farms as well as the industry knowledge. The iFarm Growtune platform can determine the plant’s weight, any growth deviations or pathologies and build a system that improves crops’ quality characteristics on its own. It provides recommendations to the farm staff and adjusts the microclimate settings to ensure better results.
“iFarm enables environmentally friendly production with zero carbon footprint delivery due to much shorter transportation time, does not deplete the Earth’s soil resources, and saves water needed for the plants”, says Max Chizhov, co-founder and CEO of iFarm. “The new round of investment brings us closer to our goal – we plan to operate 1M m² of vertical farms using iFarm technology around the world and provide technology to grow 500+ crops by 2026.”
“The 2020 pandemic exposed the problems of the global food system – food supplies, sowing and harvesting were disrupted across the globe”, says Mikhail Taver, Managing Partner at Gagarin Capital. “iFarm is taking a novel approach to agriculture, offering an automated solution to grow crops close to the consumer and ensure food security. We believe that the future of the food market lies in modern technologies and are excited to support the project on its way.”
“Over the past few years, the team has already reached great success, making indoor farming tech possible”, Igor Matsanyuk, Chairman at IMI.VC, says. “We believe that the company will continue to develop its technology, introducing it to the new markets. IMI.VC is proud to be a part of that journey”.
In the past few years, we have seen an explosion of urban farming across many countries, involving the growing of plants or raising animals in the middle of the urban jungle.
Until a few years back, farming has been extensively considered as a rural activity. But the urgent need to find out sustainable consumption and production has led to the huge growth of urban farming.
Raised €20M funding
In this regard, PlantLab is a Dutch scaleup specialised in technology for innovative urban farming and aims to supply the planet with a sustainable source of food for the future. Recently, the company has raised its first external investment of €20 million from De Hoge Dennen Capital. The Den Bosch-based company intends to use the funding to open indoor production sites in various countries, including the Netherlands, the US, and the Bahamas.
“This injection of capital will enable us to open up additional production sites and further perfect our technology’, explains Michiel Peters, CEO of PlantLab. ‘The increasing population of the planet and the climate crisis are posing new and enormous challenges to the production of food for the world’s population. We have no choice but to grow our food more sustainably and efficiently, and that demands innovative and revolutionary solutions.”
In addition to the injection of capital by De Hoge Dennen, CFO Frank Roerink and CEO Michiel Peters are joining the scale-up company to strengthen the management team, which also includes the founding partners Leon van Duijn, Marcel Kers and John van Gemert.
Patented technology for ‘vertical farming’
Founded in 2010, the company has developed a globally patented technology for ‘vertical farming’, a hyper-efficient method for growing vegetables and fruits. Notably, it is being successfully applied in a commercial production site in Amsterdam.
The new technology makes it possible to grow fresh, healthy, and delicious vegetables on a large scale very close to the consumer without using any chemical crop protection agents.
On a surface area the size of only two football fields, it is now possible to produce enough crops to feed a city of 100,000 residents with 200 g of vegetables each daily.
Over the last 10 years, the company has already invested € 50 million in the development of technology.
Anywhere in the world
As per the company, the production sites can be set up anywhere in the world, even on barren land or urban areas. Thanks to optimised temperature, moisture, and light control, the crops grow to their full potential, while water use is reduced by as much as 95%. Light is provided by specially developed LEDs that provide the specific wavelength needed by the plant for photosynthesis.
“Our technology makes it possible to grow crops anywhere in the world very close to the consumer. The crops then no longer need to be transported over long distances. The result: less CO2 emissions, lower cost, and less food waste” says Peters.
Main image credits: PlantLab
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You don’t need a green thumb and a big backyard to grow baskets of fresh produce. In fact, according to Chicago-based Rise Gardens, you probably just need a bookshelf’s worth of space in your living room and an app.
Rise Gardens, an indoor hydroponic gardening system, has raised $ 2.6 million in seed funding for home-grown produce. The financing was led by True Ventures .
Rise Gardens sells a hardware and software indoor planting system. Customers receive a home garden kit and can assemble the system, which looks like a piece of furniture, in 45 minutes. Then, users can input Rise-provided plant pods in each row of the system to grow produce of their choice, from butter lettuce to tomatoes and arugula. The “garden” comes in three sizes, which Rise Gardens details as “matching the dimensions of an entryway table, a credenza and a shelf.”
Rise can offer this flexible solution thanks to hydroponics, a scientific method that grows plants using nutrients and water, rather than soil and sunlight. The planting system includes specific features to optimize growth. For example, Rise provides a meter for users to check the pH of the water.
From a software perspective, Rise has an app that tracks how often a user should water their plants. It also sells a subscription-based offering that brings new “seed pods” and nutrients to customers on a monthly basis.
While the system is intentionally designed to resemble furniture one would already have in the home, according to founder Hank Adams, it has a use beyond aesthetics.
The company uses vertical farming to produce food all on a vertical plane, and created a system that is both self-sustainable and flexible. In Rise’s case, it means that the user can grow root vegetables on one shelf, tomatoes and lettuce on the other.
Looking at Rise’s venture-backed competition, the concept of vertical farming isn’t new. It helps people bring more produce to fruition while staying conservative on space, because it builds up instead of out. Plus, the indoor system lets you grow year-round, instead of relying on Mother Nature.
Infarm closed a $ 100 million Series B in June for vertical farming tech targeted toward restaurants and grocery stores. Plenty has raised hundreds of millions for indoor farming technology. Other companies that have their eyes on indoor farming systems are AeroFarms, BrightFarms, Bowery Farming and Freight Farms.
But from a consumer angle, which is where Rise is coming from, the competition isn’t as fierce, claims founder Adams. He says that most solutions that exist in the market right now for consumers stick to growing a few herbs.
Avalow, for example, has built a self-watering, sub-irrigation-based and raised planter bed to help consumers grow herbs from the comfort of their homes.
Adams says that Rise wants to be a more wholesome solution.
“Our system was built to grow a lot of volume of food,” he said. “We didn’t want to grow something that was an overtly and purely visual interest.” He claims that Rise can grow a head of lettuce in 22 to 25 days.
Since shelter-in-place orders began, Adams claims that sales have increased 750% and Rise has sold 6,000 seeds per week in the last two months, which represents more than 1,500 pounds of produce. But he says this uptick in usage isn’t due to people avoiding the grocery stores, necessarily.
“We’re not telling you that you never have to go to a grocery store again after your system is a month old,” he said. “You will, but it does have an impact” on the total amount of groceries you buy.
So Rise is selling to someone who wants to supplement their food intake, not replace it with their own indoor farming setup. The hardware itself is more luxury than modest: Rise Gardens starts selling at $ 550. Adams claims that the system will pay for itself (in produce) after 16 months of usage.
So while an indoor farming system might not yet be a casual household appliance found next to the toaster, Adams finds hope for his currently luxurious company by peering at the past.
“In the past century there was a lack of appliances that felt like luxuries at the time, like dishwashers,” he said. “But now you can’t imagine living without a dishwasher or washing machine.”
A hopeful side effect of this pandemic is that nutrition will be more of a conversation, and priority, in all of our lives. With new cash, Rise Gardens is betting that that conversation around food sourcing will turn into action.
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