Developing advancements in food and agriculture technology have been cited as a key area of opportunity for Australian entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year Phil Morle — a partner at Main Sequence Ventures (the CSIRO’s $230m innovative venture fund) — told Stockhead that Australia can be a world leader in sustainable food solutions.

Already there’s a number of interesting narratives within the space. And Sydney-based agtech InvertiGro is one company looking to drive some innovation of its own with a sustainable indoor farming solution.

Speaking with Stockhead, founder and CEO Ben Lee said the company has been pleasantly surprised by the local market, since starting the business in 2017.

That launch followed an initial proof-of-concept that the founding team established in Singapore — a country which imports more than 90 per cent of its domestic food supply.

“Going through that process, it became apparent that rather than compete in food production, the opportunity was far greater to give players in the market the option to adopt our technology and build out efficient indoor farming systems in their own right,” Lee said.

While developing the tech, the InvertiGro team came into contact with Mark Adams, former Dean of Agriculture at Sydney University, who was enthusiastic about the prospects for the business in the Australian market.

That helped prompt the move in 2017, and Sydney Uni maintains an ongoing partnership with InvertiGro along with other tertiary institutions including Swinburne University of Technology and Newcastle University.

Customer foot-print

Lee said the company has a diverse range of customers for indoor farming technology, although existing players in the food-produce supply chain are the “mainstay” of its client base.

“That’s wholesalers and distributors looking for a reliable and profitable supply of fresh produce,” he said. “But we can grow anything that requires a controlled environment, so in that manner the hardware systems we developed aren’t limited to fill a particular gap.”

“It can be adapted to a whole range of produce — all the way from micro-greens to proteins to fibres to medicinal plants.”

One example is traditional farmers, who can use the InvertiGro system to grow additional livestock feed to back up their crops.

“Another interesting thing that’s popped up is we’re now working closely with property developers to incorporate productive green spaces into their buildings,” Lee said.

“That’s for both new developments, and to convert under-utilised spaces (eg car parks) into profitable urban farms to supply local residents and communities with fresh produce.”

Raising funds

To finance its early growth, InvertiGro has raised seed funding from private investors and venture capital.

Lee said investors have fallen into two distinct categories — “those who understand the model and are willing to support and those who don’t, and are essentially more cautious”.

The company has taken investment from Australian VC fund Artesian Capital in connection with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation — a federal government-owned bank that facilitates capital flows into the clean energy sector.

“We’ll look to carry out a Series A capital raise in the next two years, in order to accelerate growth into global markets and develop our technology offering,” Lee said.

For now, InvertiGro is focused on execution for its existing customer commitments, developing the tech and growing out its footprint in the Asia-Pacific region.

Lee also highlighted the opportunity to leverage InvertiGro’s crop database to provide unique industry insights — a form of intellectual property which will prove valuable as the customer base expands.

“It’s still a very nascent space, and for people who want to adopt the tech but who aren’t sure, we take away the uncertainty,” Lee said.

“It allows agriculture companies to grow with much less hassle, and essentially establish a profitable business.”