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Inari raises $89m Series C for seed tech

Chief executive Ponsi Trivisvavet says her management team’s agricultural backgrounds gives the company an understanding of where it should pursue disruption in the sector.

Seed technology-focused startup Inari has raised $89 million in a Series C round led by Flagship Pioneering, the venture capital firm that founded the company. The round brings Inari’s total fundraising to $144 million.

Investors contributing to the round announced August 6 included Acre Venture Partners and the $234 billion Investment Corporation of Dubai.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-headquartered Inari aims to increase genetic diversity in seeds through the application of machine learning and genomic tools. With an initial focus on corn, wheat, soy and tomatoes, the company describes its aims as accelerating plant breeding to improve productivity and farmer profitability while reducing environmental impact.

Inari chief executive Ponsi Trivisvavet told Agri Investor recent years have seen costs for genetic sequencing drop from $100,000 per sequence to just $200, paving the way for an acceleration in breeding of new seeds.

“Six years ago, I don’t think we were ready for any private equity or venture capital to come into play in agriculture. There was almost no innovation back then,” she said.

The majority of Inari’s 120 employees work in computer science. Trivisvavet said the market for employees with relevant expertise has been fed by consolidation in the sector, and many of the best personnel are motivated by the potential social impact of Inari’s offerings.

The potential for Inari’s technology to bring disruptive change to the seed industry has also been an important part of its appeal to the institutions that have backed the company, Trivisvavet said.

The company’s strategy of bringing its products to market through partnerships with existing independent seed companies – some of which have been servicing family-run operations for up to five generations – reflects that it also understands the limits of disruption, she added.

“We don’t want to disrupt that – we want to leverage their relationships as much as we can,” said Trivisvavet. “All of the management team here grew up in agriculture, so we know exactly how to operate, where you can disrupt, where you cannot disrupt and where you should not reach.”

Flagship Pioneering executive partner Robert Berendes added that historic stagnation in seed innovation has led to “limited choice for growers.”

“This makes it ripe for disruption from both a technology and a business standpoint,” Berendes said.

Berendes, who also serves as chairman of the board at Indigo Ag, was an operating director at Paine Schwartz Partners from October 2014 until May, according to his LinkedIn profile. Flagship Pioneering also founded Indigo Ag.

Trivisvavet declined to disclose whether Paine Schwartz is an investor in Inari. Paine Schwartz did not immediately reply to a request for further information.