The next time you’re in the produce aisle at your local grocery store or farmer’s market, look at the broccoli, brussels sprouts, kale, and cauliflower. A few thousand years ago, none of them existed. They all started out as different parts of the same wild mustard plant before humans selectively bred them to “amplify certain traits,” according to a white paper from Inari, a seed technology startup.
Inari knows all about how different plants can change and adapt over time. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based startup uses AI-powered predictive design and a multiplex gene editing toolbox to make crop seeds more resilient and sustainable.
Inari boasts that its technology “can transform any crop in any geography.” However, its current focus is on crops with the most significant footprint – corn, soybeans, and wheat – which cover more than 500 million acres across North and South America.
The company aims to change the agricultural landscape so crops require 10% less land, 40% less water, and 40% less nitrogen. The ultimate goal is to improve yields in corn, soy, and wheat by more than 20% a year – well above the historical yield improvement of less than 1% annually.
“Multiplex gene editing not only makes these previously unimaginable enhancements possible, it does so with plants’ natural DNA,” according to the Inari white paper. “It works like traditional breeding but with greater precision, accuracy, and speed.”
There’s a lot of complex science to Inari’s work, but it’s fairly easy to understand on a commercial level. The company collaborates with stakeholders to learn the challenges facing farmers, society, and the planet. Once it identifies a problem, Irani locates its source in the crop’s genetic code and attempts to solve it within the seed.
On a broader scale, Irani develops seeds designed to withstand the effects of climate change – including extreme shifts in temperature, more frequent and sustained droughts, and more severe floods and other weather events. One of the advantages of Inari’s seeds is that they require less water, land, and fertilizer, CEO Ponsi Trivisvavet told Bloomberg in an interview.
“Land, water, and nitrogen fertilizer are pretty heavy resources, and if we want to address the challenge of sustainability, we have to work on these three things,” Trivisvavet said.
This kind of work requires considerable research – and money. Inari, founded in 2016 by Massachusetts venture capital firm Flagship Pioneering, has been successful on both counts. In October, it raised $124 million in a Series E funding round that included participation from Flagship Pioneering as well as CPP Investments, Hanwha Impact Partners, NGS Super, Banque Pictet, and Sage Hill Investors. The round brought the company’s cumulative equity raised to $475 million. It also pushed Inari’s valuation to about $1.5 billion.
Proceeds will be used to support the expansion of Inari’s product development, focusing on advancing its seed designs and accelerating new products in corn, soybean, and wheat seeds. Capital will also be put toward expanding greenhouses and preparing for commercialization.
The latest round “reaffirms the relevance and importance of our mission at Inari to unlock the full potential of seed,” Trivisvavet said in a press release. “These investments put us in a position to truly push the boundaries of what is possible and design seeds for a more sustainable, nature-positive food system.”
Alongside the fundraising announcement, Inari said it entered into a refinanced and upsized loan agreement with K2 HealthVentures, a healthcare-focused specialty finance company. This new investment will enable Inari to access up to $60 million in debt capital.
For Flagship Pioneering, Inari’s ability to draw investment dollars further validates its original vision.
“When Flagship Pioneering founded Inari, we envisioned the potential of adapting technology platforms previously used for human health to transform our global food system and have a restorative impact on our planet,” Robert Berendes, Flagship’s executive partner and an Inari board member, said in a statement. “This fundraise further validates the company’s pioneering advances and fuels the next phase of bringing breakthrough seed solutions to market, thereby unlocking new possibilities for farmers, consumers, and the planet.”