August 20, 2019
By Lynda Kiernan
Founded in 1985, CIT focuses on the seed funding and early commercialization of innovation, and provides support to tech entrepreneurs growing new companies that will foster economic growth and create jobs throughout the state of Virginia. CIT GAP Funds is a venture capital vehicle through which to make seed stage equity investments in these technologies.
The latest venture to join the CIT GAP Funds portfolio is Charlottesville, Virginia-based Babylon Micro-Farms. Founded in 2017 by a pair of students at the University of Virginia, Babylon Micro-Farms enables small growers and businesses to gain greater control of their supply of fresh organic produce by making indoor farming more accessible through a range of scalable indoor farming modules.
“The idea for Babylon Micro-Farms was born in a social entrepreneurship class at UVA, when a professor asked my co-founder Graham and I to develop a high impact, low cost product that could help refugees. I quickly discovered and became interested in hydroponics, a way to grow plants without soil, use less water, and grow crops faster,” said Alexander Olesen, co-founder and CEO, Babylon Micro-Farms.
Sales of organic fresh produce increased by 8.6 percent in 2018 to reach $5.6 billion, according to the Organic Produce Network, and increasingly, vertical and indoor farming are stepping in to meet this demand. In just the U.S., the vertical farming market is expected to reach a value of $3 billion by 2024, and on a global scale, the market is forecast to see a CAGR of 24 percent to reach a value of $6.4 billion by 2023.
A relatively new category in agricultural production and agtech, the production of food utilizing highly controlled, closed, and modular hydroponic systems has seen startups evolve on multiple continents and is beginning to gain investor attention.
Boston-based Freight Farms, Paris-based Agricool, and Canada’s TruLeaf are a select few raising capital to bring modular, containerized farming to urban areas that often lack affordable, organic, fresh produce because of long and expensive supply lines.
Babylon’s modular indoor farms are powered by a patented IoT platform that remotely controls each farm’s custom tailored ecosystem, depending on each customer’s needs. The startup’s easy-to-use application guides farmers through each step: when to plant, watering and harvesting schedules, and includes live data and farm health alerts. This system allows for the growth of produce twice as fast as traditional farming, while requiring 90 percent less water, and no pesticides or chemicals.
“The mission to offer more accessible, affordable produce to a wider range of communities across the U.S. is one that CIT is excited to stand behind. Responses from existing Babylon Micro-Farms users, including a UVA dining hall, The Boar’s Head’s Resort, Corner Juice and others have been very positive and showcase the wide use cases for this solution,” said Thomas Weithman, managing director of CIT GAP Funds, and president and CIO of MACH37.
“Being able to grow any kind of produce year round within our communities, such as for local food service industries, education and assisted living, or community farms to name a few, is a game changer for the state of sustainable urban agriculture,” continued Weithman. “CIT is very confident in Babylon’s future success, and we look forward to being part of their journey.”
Supplies are delivered to Babylon customers ready-to-grow, and Babylon provides 24/7 farming support, drastically reducing the upfront costs associated with indoor farming, while also providing the expertise needed for successful harvests.
“Our mission is to develop technology that will inspire a new generation of urban farmers to grow their own fresh, affordable, sustainable produce at the push of a button,” said Olesen. “We are grateful for the support of CIT GAP funds at this stage of our development.”
– Lynda Kiernan is Editor with GAI Media and daily contributor to GAI News. If you would like to submit a contribution for consideration, please contact Ms. Kiernan at [email protected].