Inari adds $208m for seed technology expansion

Ponsi Trivisvavet says the Series D will support development of the Flagship Pioneering-backed startup’s next-generation corn and soybean seeds, which are likely to reach markets within a ‘couple of years.’

Flagship Pioneering-backed start-up Inari raised $208 million in a Series D partly designed to help the seed development company expand beyond its focus on corn and soy into new crops including wheat.

Inari’s predictive design software is applied to advanced gene editing to produce parent seeds with built-in sustainability characteristics such as enhanced water and fertilizer efficiency.

Chief executive Ponsi Trivisvavet told Agri Investor that while it can typically take between 10 and 15 years to develop a new seed, Inari’s technology allows for a reduction of that timeline by about one third.

She said recent investor interest in the company, which was founded by Flagship in 2016, has been supported by development breakthroughs that have included the application of its technology to field and greenhouse grown crops including tomatoes, as well as corn and soy.

“The sustainability investors are coming in this round and the investors from the previous round that focus on sustainability, they upsized even more,” said Trivisvavet, who previously served as a chief operating officer of Flagship-backed Indigo Agriculture and in seed-focused positions with Syngenta, according to her LinkedIn profile.

“The new investors that are coming in put the emphasis even more on sustainability.”

The Series D round was co-led by Flagship and existing investors Alexandria Venture Investments, the Investment Corporation of Dubai and Swiss private banking group Banque Pictet, who were joined by San Francisco-headquartered venture capital firm G Squared and Pavilion Capital, a private equity firm headquartered in Singapore.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-headquartered company’s name references the Japanese god of harvest and it is currently developing its first seed offering.

Inari raised $89 million in August 2019 Series C and entered into a $45 million loan and security agreement financing led by life sciences and healthcare-focused investment firm K2 HealthVentures in April 2020.

The Series D brings Inari’s cumulative equity raised to more than $352 million and will be devoted to accelerating product development for corn and soybeans in North and South America, which are currently tested at company facilities in Lafayette, Indiana and Ghent, Belgium.

Trivisvavet said once its debut offerings are developed, Inari plans to market its seeds through partnerships with existing seed companies. She confirmed Inari has finalized at least one such agreement with an independent seed company to distribute Inari’s seeds, but declined to identify its partner.

The day after Trivisvavet spoke with Agri Investor, Inari announced a business and research collaboration with Atlanta, Indiana-headquartered Beck’s, a family-owned seed retailer and brand.

Our customers are seed companies. The seed companies will then multiply it into seeds and these customers would then sell it into the hands of farmers,” said Trivisvavet. “Our seed design crop – meaning the first one in soybeans and corn – will be coming in the market in a couple of years.”

Senior engineering manager Alex Frieden said in a March 2020 interview that the scientific approaches Inari applies are similar to some used in cutting-edge medicine, albeit focused on increasing the climate resiliency of seeds. Frieden explained that Inari’s team, which was then five engineers with plans to expand to eight, utilizes machine vision to improve lab operations, existing databases of crops pedigrees to inform breeding decisions and other open-source software.

“Taking some of these predictive tools from the public sector and really scaling them out and using technologies, like the open-source Argo Project started by Inuit, allows us to really scale at ways you would not be able to in a traditional non-cloud way,” he added.