Farzana Haque, 01 December 2022
Of the total land in the UK, 71% is used by the agricultural industry, according to a recent Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs report. This indicates enormous opportunity and growth potential for agritech, or agricultural technology.
As with most industries in the UK, agriculture has been significantly affected by Brexit. A House of Commons briefing paper on migrant workers in agriculture (back in 2017) found that, among the country’s 75k temporary, seasonal farm staff, 98% are recruited from the EU. By restricting labour movement, Brexit has left farms understaffed. This is likely one of several factors driving growth in the UK agritech sector in recent years, alongside the ongoing climate crisis, as innovative technologies are being developed to reduce our reliance on such large numbers of seasonal workers.
Here, we explore the agritech sector in detail, and profile the UK’s top high-growth agritech companies, based on the amount of equity investment they’ve raised to date.
Agritech companies develop and implement new technology to make the agricultural sector more efficient. This involves increasing the functionality and profitability of existing agricultural practices, through the use of technologies such as automation and robotics.
Agritech aims to solve a variety of problems within the agricultural sector. For example, making farming techniques more efficient, through methods such as vertical farming. Vertical farming requires less land, water, labour, chemicals and farming equipment than traditional agriculture, by growing crops vertically and often indoors. This enables greener, year-round production that’s closer to home and isn’t impacted by the weather or resource constraints.
Then there’s precision farming, which uses world-class technology such as drones and artificial intelligence. Precision agriculture enables growers to make targeted interventions, for instance to optimise soil health. Another use case of agritech is in the biotech sector, in creating advanced crops and animal feeds. This can provide climate solutions, as well as improved food production yields.
There are currently 107 high-growth agritech companies operating in the UK, turning over a total of £1.60b in their latest financials. The number of agritech startups in existence has grown considerably, sitting at just 25 companies a decade ago. Our data also indicates that the majority (60%) of UK agritech businesses were founded between 2016 and 2020.
Meanwhile, over half (53%) of companies in the UK agritech sector are at the seed stage of evolution, versus just 9% at the established stage. In comparison, the wider high-growth ecosystem is made up of 29% seed startups and 37% established-stage firms, so agritech is clearly a very nascent industry still.
But despite being new to the scene, the UK’s relatively small group of agritech companies are growing fast, with many entrepreneurs already securing investment in this space. Below, we’ve profiled the 10 private, UK-based agritech companies that have secured the greatest amount of equity finance to date.
Funds raised: £106m
Topping the list is Biocleave, a fast-growing agritech and biotech company, based in the Milton Park research hub in Oxfordshire. Biocleave develops biological reagents with a wide range of applications, including in the agriculture industry. It aims to accelerate R&D in the life sciences sector, and is at the forefront of research to engineer non-pathogenic Clostridia as a recombinant protein expression host. It also recently announced custom protein expression services for bespoke projects with businesses and researchers.
Founded in 2002, Biocleave has secured an impressive £106m in equity investment so far, across seven funding rounds. Its investors include 5Y Capital, Oxford Capital, and Sofinnova Partners. On top of this, Biocleave also acquired US biotech firm Butylfuel LLC back in 2012, and has been awarded more than £5m worth of Horizon 2020 and Innovate UK funding, through 28 innovation grants.
Funds raised: £56.0m
Intelligent Growth Solutions (or IGS) combines expertise in farming and engineering to create technological solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as climate change. The greentech company has successfully reimagined agriculture by creating indoor vertical farming technology, whereby growers can create microclimates for each crop.
Since its founding in 2013, IGS has raised £56.0m in equity investment, across 11 funding rounds. The latest of these was a £245k unannounced fundraising, secured in March 2022. Among the company’s investors are AgFunder, Ospraie Ag Science, S2G Ventures, Scottish Venture Fund, Scottish Enterprise, and DC Thomas Ventures. IGS has also been awarded three grants from Innovate UK so far, totalling £94.3k in additional funding.
Funds raised: £50.0m
Eider Vertical Farming (or EVF) focuses on vertical farming for food production, using controlled indoor environments to produce pesticide-free and locally-grown fruit and vegetables. EVF’s use of agricultural technology means plants can grow faster and to a higher quality. In doing so, it hopes to increase food safety and security through shielding from climate change and tackling shortages.
Founded in 2019 and based in Worcestershire, in the West Midlands, the seed-stage startup has already secured a £50.0m equity funding round. The investment was made by Canadian fund Slate Asset Management, in May 2022, to construct new facilities to house more vertical farms.
Funds raised: £32.2m
WeFarm develops an online platform that brings together small-scale farmers, allowing them to share knowledge and gain a better position in global supply chains. Already used by more than 2m farmers, WeFarm’s pioneering tech allows them to connect for free and without access to the internet.
Since its founding in 2015, WeFarm has already attended three accelerator programmes and featured in several high-growth lists, including 100 SmartTech Innovators, Startups 100, and The FoodTech 500. It’s also secured £32.2m in equity funding, across six rounds, and a £66.2k innovation grant. WeFarm’s backers include leading VC funds Accelerated Digital Ventures, AgFunder, Octopus Ventures and LocalGlobe.
Funds raised: £29.1m
Fischer Farms operates within the vertical farming space, developing containerised hydroponic agricultural systems. The agri-food company grows a wide range of short leaf products, such as lettuce and parsley, and is fully powered by renewable energy. Its next steps are to scale up innovation around some of the world’s least sustainable foods, such as soya beans and rice, at competitive prices.
Founded in 2016 and based in Burton-on-trent, Fischer Farms has raised £29.1m worth of equity investment so far, across five funding rounds. In its latest fundraising, in March 2022, the sustainable company raised £26.0m from the British Strategic Investment Fund, to develop and expand its growing space.
Funds raised: £25.8m
Vertical Future is a London-based urban farming startup that develops vertical farming technologies, as well as offering consultancy services. It builds high-tech farms around the world and advises on how best to operate them. Vertical Future also carries out research projects in areas such as seed treatment and breeding, through to genetics and phytopharmaceuticals.
To date, Vertical Future has raised £25.8m worth of equity investment, across five fundraisings, with the likes of SFC Capital and Earthworm. Most recently, the company was awarded a £350k innovation grant, in November 2022. It’s also been featured in The FoodTech 500 three times now, and has attended the Mayor’s International Business Programme accelerator.
Funds raised: £21.0m
Roslin Technologies is a fast-growing life sciences spinout from the University of Edinburgh. Founded in 2016, the agritech company uses biotechnology to develop sustainable food products. It aims to combat the issues of food security, animal health and environmental change, through the use of disruptive biotech to improve protein production and sustainability.
Headquartered at the University’s Roslin Innovation Centre, just outside of Edinburgh, Roslin Technologies was listed on The FoodTech 500 in both 2020 and 2021. It has raised £21.0m worth of equity investment so far, in four fundraisings, alongside three innovation grants, totalling £1.07m. The company’s investors include Novo Holdings, Old College Capital, Scottish Venture Fund, and London-based impact fund Future Planet Capital.
Funds raised: £19.0m
Breedr develops a livestock management app that helps farmers optimise an animal’s genetic and financial potential. It allows farmers to source and sell their livestock online, as well as help with cash flow by unlocking funds as animals grow. By connecting like-minded farmers, Breedr creates sustainable supply chains where livestock can be traded with complete transparency.
Founded in 2018, Breedr has featured in The FoodTech 500 high-growth list twice now and been awarded £1.45m worth of innovation grants. It has also secured £19.0m in equity investment, across five funding rounds, with backers including LocalGlobe, Forward Partners and equity crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. In its latest news, Breedr raised a £12.0m equity and loan round in March 2022, to support its efforts to expand into the Australian and US markets.
Funds raised: £15.3m
Better Origin aims to fix the food system by eliminating food waste. It collects and transforms waste into insect feed for animals or fertilisers. Better Origin’s insect feed requires significantly less water and land than conventional feeds such as soy. The foodtech startup has been recognised for its agricultural innovation by both The Guardian and the Financial Times.
To date, Better Origin has raised five rounds of equity funding, worth £15.3m in total, alongside £1.75m in innovation grants. Its investors include Balderton Capital, Fly Ventures, Metavallon VC, and business angel network Green Angel Syndicate. Better Origin has attended four accelerator programmes so far, including MassChallenge UK and Bio-start, and has featured in multiple high-growth lists (most recently The FoodTech 500).
Funds raised: £11.4m
Mootral is a Welsh agritech venture that aims to tackle two issues through agritech innovation: methane emissions and antimicrobial resistance. The innovative company has created animal feed specifically for cows which can reduce methane emissions by up to 38%. And to tackle the overuse of antibiotics, Mootral has produced a natural feed supplement that reduces the need for antibiotics in livestock.
Making waves in both the agritech and foodtech industry, Mootral has been featured in The FoodTech 500 for the past three years running. The company was founded in 2020 and is based in Blaenau Gwent, in the south-east of Wales. It has since raised two equity funding rounds, from Seedrs and Republic, amounting to £11.4m of total investment.
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