50 Venture Backed Companies Transforming Ag

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The amount of venture capital invested into agriculture is large and growing. In 2013, VC and PE investment into agriculture ventures tripled to Rs 2,000 crore.  To understand the types of investment made into the sector during the past decade, we studied a number of companies backed by different VC’s with different focuses.  50 companies and 10 funds later, we have assembled a comprehensive overview of the space along with 5 key trends in the sector.

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Research scope and criteria

We studied a lot of companies to understand where investments have been made and to gain insight into where there are opportunities moving forward.  We reviewed different levels of investment made by venture capital across the agribusiness sector—ranging from Rabo Equity’s $250 million India Agribusiness Fund to Villgro’s seed level incubation. The research was based on the following criteria:

  • The company had to be based in India; and
  • The company had to be an agribusiness; or
  • The company had to offer services tied directly to agriculture

This analysis provided a wealth of foundational information with which to assess significant investment trends, including opportunities for future growth.

The survey results

Based on the above criteria, funding came from three main sources: VC funds focused solely on agribusiness or agtech, VC funds directing a portion of their portfolio towards agriculture, and a few startups which hadn’t yet received venture capital. Combing through these sources yielded the 50 companies and 10 funds represented in our study.  In addition to standard background information, the survey captured areas of focus and the parts of the value chain the companies touch.  Thus, the results of the survey include the locations of the companies and their customers on the value chain. For trends, the following internal categories were created to provide a snapshot of their specialty:

  • Inputs – Physical inputs and technologies
  • IT – IT services providing information and support services
  • Input/IT hybrids
  • Processing – New processing technology or techniques
  • SCM (Supply Chain Management) – Cloud based SCM & logistic services
  • E2E Integration (End to End) – Focused on E2E integration of supply chain
  • SCM/E2E hybrids

For example, Super Agri Seeds received investment from Rabo Equity, their trend is Inputs, they work within the Inputs & Farm Vertical, and their one line summary states: Farm Inputs: crop protection, nutrition and seeds. Click on the Image for the full chart, organized by trend.

50 Venture Backed Companies Changing Ag
50 Venture Backed Companies Changing Ag

The Five Trends: Inputs, IT Services, Processing, SCM and E2E Integration

Looking at the 50 companies, five areas of focus received a significant amount of investment. Click on the chart to the right to see where significant investments were made into Inputs, IT, Processing, SCM and E2E Integration.

Inputs

Input companies are developing innovative tools to allow crop growth to take place on a larger scale. These companies develop products such as seeds, tools and irrigation equipment, which allow farmers to enhance the productivity of, and security around, their output. Within the seed industry, for example, companies typically operate in a couple of major categories. On the one hand we found biotech companies such as Manisha Agri Biotech and Richcore engineering new types of seeds and feeds to enhance the productivity.  On the other there are companies like Sri Biotech, Super Agri Seeds and Barrix Agro Sciences focused natural and organic means of enhancing productivity and crop protection.  An example of a company creating tools in this space is MITRA, who manufactures specialized machinery for the cultivation and upkeep of fruit.  Lastly, a prime example of a company working in the irrigation sector is Global Easy Water Projects (GEWP), who develops and sells micro-irrigation equipment.

IT Services

IT services and mobile enabled technologies are giving farmers affordable access to the types of information and expertise previously only enjoyed by large, well-established companies.  Within information services for example, there are companies providing daily, regional insights into weather and market conditions, such as Skymet, Uniphore and Reuters Market Light (RML), which provides SMS and voice messages to farmers at an affordable rate.  RML also serves farmers by having them take a picture of their crops and send the image to company-sponsored experts who review the pictures and provide real-time, crop-specific advice and assistance.

Other companies, such as Eurvaka Tech, are creating services that allow crops and livestock to be monitored remotely through advanced sensors.  These sensors then allow the company to collection of information at the source in order to generate timely opportunities for experts to diagnose and provide assistance. Eurvaka Tech also provides on-farm diagnostic equipment for aquaculture monitoring and automation.  In the livestock industry, the innovative use of technology and business practices is allowing Basix Krishi to provide affordable, subscription-based livestock healthcare services with biweekly visits and instant access to support and veterinary expertise. (Learn more about developments in this sector here Farm IT – Mobile In the Mud).

Processing

The processing opportunities reviewed fall into three main camps. The first type provides farmers the ability to complete the value-add aspect of processing independently.  For example, I-WAC’s equipment allows farmers to complete the de-husking process of the areca nut and Microspin Machine Works new technology that provides cotton growers better access to the market.  The second type is seen in dairy, where new processing capabilities such as cooling—as seen in Promethean Power— allowing milk farmers to become part of the milk collection chain.  The final type is within investments into companies who provide large scale processing capabilities; such as the organic food processor Khyati Foods or the branded edible oils company GeePee.

Supply Chain Management & Logistics

Cloud-based supply chain management and logistic services are transforming how companies large and small are able to streamline their operations.  In the dairy sector, Stellapps Tech and Shree Kamdhenu Electronics have developed the dairy technology and cloud-based tools which allow for significant amounts of control, flexibility and automation.  As a result, private companies, coop’s and even NGO’s are able to enjoy a superior level of service and expertise that would not have been affordable before.  Other key players in this space include Frontal Rain, who provides ‘the SCM solution for agribusiness in India,’ Sohan Lal Commodity’s agri-logistic services and Thinklink’s SCM services.  (Learn more about how companies like Frontal Rain are using cloud-based SCM solutions to integrate the agribusiness SC here Startups and the Ag Supply Chain).

End to End Integration

The need for more control, flexibility and transparency described in the first article of this series is seen most clearly in this area of investment. As of this writing there are two major categories of investment broken down according to their scale, both large and small. The large investments were typically strategic acquisitions meant to help with vertical integration. The small investments were typically a result of small, private companies or NGOs inputting capital for full E2E services with the goal of integrating farmers.

In the large investment category, some of Rabo Equity’s purchases illustrate these trends well. National Collateral Management is a company focused on developing post harvest infrastructure and companies like LT Foods Ltd. and Daawat Foods Limited have exceptional processing capabilities. Other companies with E2E integration already in place were attractive acquisitions given their potential to scale, as seen in Milk Mantra for dairy, Global Green Company for fruits and vegetables, Arohan Foods for pork and INI Farms within horticulture.

In the small investment category were companies working specifically with farmers to ensure proper inputs are used, technical expertise is provided and market access is available.  Companies like LEAF, Aroghyam, Farms and Farmers, and Zameen, a farmer-owned company partnering with marginalized farmers to produce fair-trade, organic and pesticide free cotton. (Learn more about developments in this space here Startups and the Ag Supply Chain).

Conclusion

Our survey demonstrated clear trends with regard to VC investments in agricultural enterprise in India. This 50article outlined five major investment specialties pursued by the 50 companies in our survey. Ultimately these specialties serve to demonstrate why India is such an attractive place for venture capital investment in the agriculture sector. India has great potential because of its wealth of resources and human capital, and these companies are leading the push to tap into those resources by promoting innovation and integration.

While there are five major trends for venture capital as a whole, our fund chose to focus on explore 3 areas that are especially attractive for seed stage venture capital investment.  We will explore the following three areas within the remaining articles of this series: inputs focusing on financial services, IT supported services and cloud-based SCM & logistic services.

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