News: Seattle-based indoor farming startup Koidra received a $3.77 million grant in partnership with The Ohio State University, Rutgers University, Cornell University and the University of Arizona. The four-year grant was awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture.
The technology: Founder Kenneth Tran was a Principal Applied Scientist at Microsoft Research for more than seven years before launching Koidra in 2020. He is applying model-based reinforcement learning, which is a subdomain of machine learning, to the challenge of improving agriculture in interiors. Reinforcement learning focuses on real-time decision making and optimization.
Using this technology, Koidra has twice won the international Autonomous Greenhouse Challenge, a competition held at the prestigious Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands.
In the four-month-long contest, Koidra’s team used its software to remotely adjust greenhouse parameters such as lighting, ventilation, heating, irrigation, misting and blackout screens to grow superior lettuce .
The foundership: Koidra previously raised a $4.5 million seed round earlier this year. The new grant will allow the company to work with university experts to further develop and validate data-driven decision making and models to improve product growth.
Agtech is an increasingly popular space for venture capital. Last year, agtech companies raised $10.9 billion worldwide in more than 900 deals, according to research from PitchBook.
The why: In their presentation to USDA, the team noted that the US has a limited pool of experienced growers and local technology in the area of controlled environment agriculture, or CEA.
“Development of CEA technology by national R&D capacity in the US lags far behind,” the researchers wrote. “Historically, new technologies have been imported from the Netherlands, the world leader in CEA. This heavy reliance on foreign technologies in a rapidly expanding industry creates an imbalanced accessibility and affordability.”