We like to say that we invest in elite founders who breathe, eat and dream about their product and have a very high-fidelity understanding of their market, the problems to be solved, and the job to be done. From a product perspective, we look to invest in blitzscaling companies focused on lubricating or completely eliminating market-facing friction in African markets and beyond.
When we met Sara Menker to learn more about Gro Intelligence, we had no doubt that she ticked these boxes, and more! Today, we are excited to announce that our strategic partnership with TPG Growth led a Series A-2 investment in Gro Intelligence. The funds will be used for product development, people and customer acquisition. Eghosa Omoigui has joined the company's Board of Directors.
Gro Intelligence disrupts the existing fragmented agricultural data research market by structuring the world’s agricultural data, organizing and transforming it into searchable information, offering cloud-based decision support and predictive analytics.
Prior to Gro, the agro-data world consisted, in part, of different types of players all seeking decision-making information. There are (a) teams of experts toggling between various technical software, spreadsheets, documents and messy, fragmented outputs; (b) farmers burdened with a plethora of multiple, disconnected data points which they struggle to interpret; (c) third-party intermediaries driving to farms, taking pictures and writing notes, or launching satellite infrastructure to capture and resell better geospatial data; (d) commodity traders paying millions for an information edge; and (e) governments and regulatory agencies creating and implementing policy as well as collating and publishing data that is so important that it can and does move commodity trading markets in an instant.
Fundamentally, every single agro-market participant wakes up every day trying to answer one fundamental question, viz., “How do all these [dynamic and volatile] trends (weather, policy, pricing, risk, demand, supply, regulations, finance, etc.) affect me and my business?”
In Q1 this year in the U.S., grains were piled on runways, parking lots and fields as a result of record highs in yield. Quite the opposite was true in Africa – half the continent experienced the worst harvest in three decades due to climate change. For example, in East Africa, droughts led to a 31% increase in the price of maize products. In both situations, Gro’s flagship product would have been the perfect tool for producers, consumers, governments and NGOs to analyse and understand the interaction of market forces, regulations and weather on production and yields. The Gro system generates yield forecasts analytics that predicts yields within a 2% error margin of the final reported yields, 5 months before official numbers are published. The system is already outperforming USDA forecasts and is available more frequently.
Gro’s use cases are endless. It provides farmers the key data they need to optimize production and gives CPG/FMCG companies the tools to optimize their supply chains and reduce waste. It enables governments and regulatory agencies to develop proactive policies to prevent stockpiles and shortages, gives NGOs access to data needed to achieve their goals of increasing food security and nutrition, and helps insurance industry participants price ag-related risks more accurately.
Gro’s founder once described the company’s objective as becoming the “single source of truth for the world’s global balance sheet for agriculture.” With Gro’s platform, what would take users days, weeks and sometimes even months, can now be done in a matter of minutes. We believe it should increase decision support efficiency by 7,200x!
The fourth agricultural revolution has digital agriculture at its center with regenerative and precision farming coming into near-term focus, with the world’s population expected to increase to 9.6bn by 2050, food production forecasted to rise by 60-70%, and arable land expected to decline significantly. Efficiency and yield maximization will therefore be key and access to quality and actionable data is absolutely crucial.
Agriculture is a $3-5 trillion market globally and we size the agriculture data opportunity as $50-100 billion. Accenture believes that by making data-based decisions, farmers can increase their income by $52bn through cost-cutting and yield-optimization. The proliferation of capital flows into this sector over the last couple of years is no surprise then, with investments like the recent $300 million acquisition of Granular by DuPont and the $900 million DTN acquisition.
Sara Menker is an exceptional entrepreneur that is deeply passionate about agriculture and its impact on people and markets. She was a commodities trader at Morgan Stanley in her previous life and experienced first-hand the pain points in ag-data research. The market crash in 2008 showed clearly how volatile a sector as essential as agriculture could be, which got her thinking more deeply about the future of agriculture. She went on every farm tour across the globe that she could find. Her firsthand experience of massive droughts in Africa in the eighties, made her even more obsessed about agriculture. Sara exemplifies the market and product obsession that is the EchoVC portfolio company founder.
Separately, it is no secret that there has been a massive bias towards male founders in the tech space. The global percentage of women-founder venture-funded companies has been constant at 17% for over 5 years and even lower at 7% for later stage growth companies, the bulk of which have been in ecommerce and education. For African and Africa-focused women founders, the stats are even more bleak. As an extremely diverse VC firm (50% women), this wasn’t an ideal state of affairs. Thus, we have been extremely keen to fund elite [technical] female founders, and set funding a woman founder as a must-happen goal for this year. We can’t believe our good fortune!
We would be remiss if we didn’t give gigantic shout-outs to the Gro team (and their awesome interns, too). Together, Sara, Sewit and Nemo have done a tremendous job of building an all-star cross-border team that truly believes in the vision of building a world-class agriculture data platform that, in time, should become the agro market’s daily habit.
We are super excited about Gro and cannot wait for the world to feel its impact. In partnership with our friends at TPG Growth/Satya Capital, we believe that Gro will completely revolutionize agriculture data for Africa and beyond. We look forward to working with Sara and the team and welcome them to the portfolio.
About Gro Intelligence
Gro Intelligence structures and contextualizes the world’s agricultural data, making complex analysis simple and accessible. Gro Intelligence’s flagship product, Gro, is a web-based product that pulls together global food and agriculture data and structures it into a common language using an ontology designed by Gro. Gro also offers a suite of machine learning models to forecast supply, demand, and environmental catastrophes. Gro enables users to extract insights and access predictive analytics at an unprecedented scale. Gro Intelligence has offices in New York City and Nairobi, Kenya. For more information, please visit: www.gro-intelligence.com