Billionaires make it rain on Plenty, the indoor farming startup

SoftBank Vision Fund, the huge tech-investment vehicle helmed by Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, has led a $200 million investment into indoor farming startup Plenty.

Joining Son on his trip out to back the (indoor) farm movement are notable tech billionaires Eric Schmidt and Jeff Bezos through their investment firms Innovation Endeavors and Bezos Expeditions. Previous investors, including the venture firm DCM, also participated in the round.

The round will be used to support the global rollout of Plenty’s vertical indoor farms, which can produce crops at yields 530 times greater than that of a typical field.

Plenty farms can grow anything except tree fruit and root vegetables, and the company will sell its veggies at costs that are competitive with typical prices for organic vegetables.

Chief executive Matt Barnard calls the veggies “super organics,” or beyond organic, because there are no pesticides or chemicals of any kind used in the cultivation of Plenty’s crops.

As a result of the investment, Jeffrey Housenbold will join the Plenty board of directors.

The company’s first crops will be on shelves in undisclosed supermarkets and available online in the San Francisco area next year. Plans are afoot for new farms in regions around the world… anywhere there is a population center, Barnard tells me.

So far, the company has only two farms in operation… one in its headquarters in South San Francisco and another in its operational heart in Laramie, Wyoming (not really a population center).

With its massive new round, Plenty certainly has a rich foundation from which to spread its seeds, but the company also has a cornucopia of competitors.

Aerofarms, BrightFarms, Bowery Farming and Freight Farms are all developing indoor farming systems that purport to provide better, fresher, cheaper produce at a fraction of the cost of organics and with a similar footprint.

And there are no guarantees of success in a market as ripe for competition as the farming industry. Indeed, several companies, including Atlanta-based PodPonics, Vancouver’s LocalGarden and Chicago-area FarmedHere, had to close down because they weren’t viable businesses.

This investment by a SoftBank fund caps a hat-trick of participating in several hundred million dollar deals announced in the past 24 hours. The company’s funds have participated in a $114 million Series C financing for Brain Corp, an artificial intelligence company creating a robot automation software (also through the Vision fund); and a commitment as part of a $159 million syndicate investment in Nauto, a software development company for autonomous vehicles, in addition to the $200 million round for Plenty.