Indigo raises $250M, launches marketplace to help farmers get paid for quality grain

Indigo, the startup bringing algorithms and machine learning to the agricultural industry, has raised a $250 million Series E, bringing its total raised to $650 million.

The funding values the company at $3.5 billion, according to a source familiar with the deal. That’s a steep increase from its previously reported value: $1.4 billion with a $156 million Series D last September. Existing investors Baillie Gifford, the Alaska Permanent Fund, the Investment Corporation of Dubai and Flagship Pioneering participated in the round. New investors, who Indigo declined to name, also participated.

Indigo initially launched in 2014 to help farmers improve the health and productivity of their crops with microbial products that protect against the environment, disease and pest stress. Now, the company is expanding its suite of digital tools with the launch of Indigo Marketplace, which is essentially eBay for farmers.

Indigo CEO David Perry, who grew up on a farm in Arkansas, told TechCrunch Indigo expects to do $500 million in bookings this year thanks to the early growth of the new product. That’s more than 8x growth YoY.

Indigo first began rolling out the online grain marketplace to its network of farmers in June and has since seen more than $6 billion worth of grain put up for sale by farmers. Buyers have placed more than 4,000 bids worth $2 billion.

Perry, a serial entrepreneur — he co-founded Better Therapeutics and Anacor Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired for $5.2 billion by Pfizer — says Indigo’s marketplace has had the most rapid adoption of any product launch he’s been associated with in his career.

“It’s part of a bigger plan,” he said. “We knew microbiology was a cornerstone to changing agriculture but it couldn’t do it by itself.”

Using Indigo Marketplace, buyers can purchase grain directly from farmers. They can filter by protein content, milling quality or by production practices, i.e. whether it’s organic or not. Growers are paid based on the quality of their crop, which is determined by a sample sent to a third-party lab for analysis.

Indigo manages the testing, the transportation of the crop and the payment through its new platform. 

Venture capital investment in agtech has been steadily growing in the last decade with more and more early-stage startups emerging to compete with the Big 6 of agriculture: Monsanto, Bayer, DuPont, Dow, Syngenta and BASF.

The industry, according to agtech firm Finistere Ventures, has transitioned “from a niche, opportunistic clade of the venture capital investment class, to a legitimate asset class attracting focused and generalist funds.”

As for Indigo, it has been and continues to be the most valuable private agtech startup.