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TPG backs ag-intel platform Series A

Gro Intelligence uses machine learning and vast amounts of data to aid agricultural decision-making in finance, government and the food and beverage industry.

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Gro Intelligence uses machine learning and vast amounts of data to aid agricultural decision-making in finance, government and the food and beverage industry.

TPG Growth, a mid-market unit of private equity firm TPG, has participated in a Series A-2 funding round for Gro Intelligence, an agricultural data analytics company with operations in Kenya and New York.

The deal, for which financial details were undisclosed, was sourced through EchoVC, a Nigeria-based venture capital firm focused on technology companies in sub-Saharan Africa. It saw TPG joined by other investors including venture capital firm Data Collective and unnamed family offices.

Founded in 2014, Gro collects agricultural data which it synthesizes through artificial intelligence and machine learning to help decision-making by investment professionals, corporations, governments and international organizations.

“From traders investing in wheat, procurement teams buying sugar, credit institutions lending to soy producers and policymakers creating strategic plans, Gro enables actors throughout the agriculture ecosystem to use data and make informed decisions,” the company said.

Fragmented info

Gro founder and chief executive Sara Menker told Agri Investor that information on the platform comes from a variety of sources including governments, financial institutions, advocacy groups and others.

“It’s so fragmented, not just the sources but the formats that these sources come in,” she said. “Sometimes we are literally scraping emails that come in. Sometimes its images that governments scan and put on their websites and we extract the numbers. A lot of times it’s not in English.”

Menker said that before TPG’s investment, most of the company’s funding had come from family offices in Asia, Australia and Africa. The mix was initially weighted heavily toward families with experience in agricultural markets, Menker said, but as Gro came to increasingly focus on presenting itself as a tech company, it found a broader range of families attracted by its potential impact.

The company’s revenue comes from subscriptions, which Gro has already sold to sovereign wealth funds, large food and beverage companies and trading operations of various sizes, Menker said.  Gro typically does not sell to farmers unless they are large commercial operations that also have infrastructure to trade, she added.

“We’re not trying to optimize decisions at the farm level to tell people how to plant something every half-acre,” she explained. “What we think about is: what is the macro world around the farm? How do you take all of this micro knowledge that we have […] to extrapolate that to a broader supply picture – but also how do you understand the demand side globally? And how do you calibrate the two?”

Digestible data

One area where Gro’s platform is similar to the farm management software platforms that were the focus of the agtech panel at the Agri Investor Forum in Chicago earlier this month is in its focus on user experience, Menker said. In some ways, Gro’s key challenge is transforming large amounts of complex and often scientific information into a format digestible for decision-makers, she added. “We spend as much time thinking about design as we do about the science of agriculture.”

To demonstrate how the platform is used, Menker described a case in which information from the Gro platform helped shape the agricultural policy of an African government she declined to identify. The government had been considering a ban on exports of an agricultural commodity because a delay in rain had led to fears of a drop in production.

“By using the product and seeing that because there happened to be a lot of water in the soil available in advance of planting, they could withstand the delay in rains. Actually, at the sub-national market level, prices were collapsing, which is not what you typically see if there is an impending food shortage,” she said. “By seeing that evidence, they actually removed the ban. That happened in the span of one to two weeks, which is very, very fast in the context of a government.”