Vertical farming, a key subsector of the indoor farming industry, refers to the process of growing crops in vertically stacked beds or shelves inside controlled-environment buildings or containers. The process uses artificial lights and soilless growing techniques to simulate a crop’s optimal growing environment and control the desired outcome in terms of yield, texture, size, and other characteristics.
Hydroponic farm operators account for nearly half of our list of disruptors and total funding in the range USD 1.4 - 1.6 billion. These companies follow a soilless growing method that places crops’ roots directly in containers filled with nutrient-enriched water without the need for fish farming tanks (as in aquaponics) or air sprinklers (as in aeroponics). Due to ease of use, lower costs, and higher ROI, hydroponic farms are the most popular growing system in the vertical farming industry.
In contrast, less than 10% of our disruptors operate aquaponic or aeroponic growing systems to vertically produce crops. The average funding per start-up in these segments ranges between USD 35 - 60 million.
The vertical farming industry has not significantly attracted the attention of large conventional vegetable producers such as Bonipak Produce, Tanimura & Antle, and Duda Farm Fresh Foods. Tanimura & Antle has meanwhile only developed a hydroponics greenhouse in Livingston, California to accommodate consumer demand for fresh and locally-grown foods. However, the industry is seeing large supermarket chains partnering with startups to either set up vertical farms at stores or source vertically-grown produce for their customers. For instance, Kroger, Sobeys, and Publix partnered with startups to set up on-site vertical farms and source fresh produce for consumers. Companies like McCain Foods also invested in startups to support the development of vertical farming technologies.