citybiz+ Babylon Micro-Farms Raises $8 Million Series A

Richmond, Va.-based Babylon Micro-Farms, which helps build personal vertical farms to grow sustainable produce, has closed on an $8 million Series A round led by South Carolina’s Venture South. Other investors include Virginia Venture Partners, Bethesda, Md.-based Hull Street Capital and Houston, Texas-based New Theory Ventures. So far, the six-year-old startup has raised $19.1 million, including $1.5 million in grants from the National Science Foundation.

Alexander Olesen and Graham Smith, who met at the University of Virginia, co-founded Babylon in 2017. The two were inspired by the concept of sustainable hydroponic farming they discovered ruing a student program to build a micro-farm to provide nutritious produce for refugees in the Middle East.

Smith holds multiple patents on Internet of Things inventions in agtech and medical device. He is a principal investigator and proposal reviewer for the National Science Foundation. Last year, Oleson and Smith were included in the Forbes 30 Under 30.

Babylon has built a remote management system called Galleri, which, at the touch of a button, “delivers a simple, yet engaging indoor growing experience.” It is pushing the $15,000 system and a remote management platform called BabylonIQ that can build and manage a wall of plants. Users can pick from over 45 varieties of nutrient-dense and ultra-fresh leafy greens, herbs, micro-greens and edible flowers, and expect a harvest of up to 24 pounds of leafy greens per month.

The system uses 90% less water when compared to outdoor farming, and vegetables grow 2-3 times faster, Babylon claims. Babylon’s clients include IKEA, LinkedIn and Neiman Marcus. Given the high cost of Galleri, Babylon is initially targeting companies, while also offering a hardware-as-a-service subscription pricing option. Babylon also offers individuals an app called GuidedGrowing, which provides varied tips and includes human support.

“We’re taking a new approach to vertical farming…bigger does not mean better if your goal is to empower businesses and communities to grow their own food on-site, all year round, regardless of the climate outside,” Olesen, who previously worked for a company called Hydroponic Automation, said on LinkedIn. “Closing our Series A enables us to bring vertical farming to new markets in a way that captivates the end consumer and engages them with where their food comes from.”

The BabylonIQ platform is built to scale and can manage a distributed fleet of vertical farms, Olesen told TechCrunch. “The proprietary platform we’ve developed automatically controls growing conditions, scheduling planting/harvesting and reordering supplies while we are able to conduct real-time analysis of plant health and predictive maintenance on our fleet,” he said.

Babylon’s Backers

Venture South, based in Greenville, S.C., is investing out of $10 million raised via six funds. It is led by co-founder Matt Dunbar.

Virginia Venture Partners, established in 2005, has invested $32.4 million across more than 250 portfolio companies, including 17 in designated Opportunity Zones. It is ranked among the top 50 venture capital firms nationwide.

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VVP’s investments are governed by the Virginia Venture Partners Investment Advisory Board (IAB), an independent panel consisting of entrepreneurs and investors from venture capital firms such as New Enterprise Associates, Grotech Ventures, Harbert Venture Partners HIG Ventures, Edison Ventures and In-Q-Tel.

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Hull Street Capital, based in Bethesda, Md., is a private equity firm focused on middle market opportunities in manufacturing and services sectors. It has completed more than $5 billion worth of acquisitions over the past 25 years, and claims career returns in excess of 35% return on equity. Its portfolio includes Diaphorm Technologies, NextGen VP and Synergy Lime Development Company.

Founder and managing partner Christopher J. Meyers leads the firm. He has over 25 years of experience, notably in Carlyle Venture Partners where he oversaw investments in network security, enterprise software and e-finance. He has also worked at Morgan Stanley and GE Capital, where he was a member of the CEO’s strategic planning and business development team.