-Earthworm provides £1.1m of follow-on investment for Vertical Future, a London-based food technology business, specialized in vertical farming -Vertical Farming is predicted to be a long-term solution for economic shocks, such as pandemics – with the sector expected to grow at a CAGR of 24% to $12.77 billion by 2026
Earthworm is a fast-growing impact investor with a portfolio across food, energy and waste. It was the lead investor in Vertical Future's £4 million seed round last Autumn. Earthworm's vision is to make the U.K. a more sustainable place to live by enabling environmental projects in the food, energy and waste sectors. They do this by developing and nurturing early-stage and scale-up businesses with huge commercial potential, redefining the traditional investment model to become both personally and globally impactful.
Vertical Future is focused on protecting the U.K.'s food security and improving long-term population health through building a better, smarter, more efficient food system. The company performs activities across growing, technology, and research and development (R&D), led by a management team that has experience spanning life sciences, engineering, and plant sciences.
Vertical Future's growing operations, based in Deptford, produces sustainable, pesticide-free produce for the food sector. Its technology plans are equally as impressive - with its team halfway through building what is expected to be the most sophisticated vertical farm in the world, which will be fully automated, sensor and software-driven, with better than food standard hygiene practices and R&D capabilities. The facility is expected to go beyond organic certification status. The company has several vertical farming licensing deals in the pipeline and a growing number of national and international projects across an increasingly diversified portfolio.
The recent global pandemic has had a significant impact on every sector of the U.K. economy, including food, with economic output expected to decrease by 15%. In London, food wholesalers and distributors saw a greater than 70% overnight fall in sales and most restaurants - excluding those able to offer takeaway services - were forced to close, resulting in significant layoffs across the industry. On the supply side, major farms across the U.K. have been forced to close or scale back, in some cases facing difficulties in securing labor. Farms have warned of a potential shortage in food supply with harvest workers shut out. Overall, there remains uncertainty concerning when the pandemic is likely to end, how the food sector will be able to cope in the interim, and how market dynamics will change when things return to a state of normality.
Vertical farms offer futuristic, automation-driven solutions for coping with economic shocks, including those associated with climate change, rapid population growth, Brexit, and pandemics. When designed correctly, they are set up for full automation, reducing reliance on otherwise labor-intensive activities and systems. Vertical farms are location agnostic and are therefore a viable alternative to standardized distribution chains. Moreover, they can continue to function, notwithstanding material shifts in the macro social position and are hardened against economic shifts. In recent years, these factors have led to substantial growth in the number of vertical farms, primarily in the U.S. and across Europe. This includes over $238 million of investment to date in U.S. heavyweight, Aerofarms.
Earthworm's follow-on investment will not only support Vertical Future in accelerating its technology and growing plans, it will also better equip the U.K. in the event of future economic shocks, creating a better, lower-risk environment for all.
Ben Prior, CEO of Earthworm said: "Vertical farming will be at the forefront of food production in the years to come; it is poised to help solve one of the biggest issues of our time - how to feed a growing population sustainably. We were impressed by Jamie's vision and the company's potential from their seed round and are looking forward to supporting this very special business in its rapid growth."
Jamie Burrows, Founder & CEO of Vertical Future, said: "Earthworm's commitment to our business and the food sector during such an uncertain and turbulent time for the economy is very encouraging. This investment will allow us to accelerate growth of our operations and further validates our long-term view that vertical farming will be integral to food systems of the future."
Earthworm is an environmental fund manager which only backs projects that will have a positive social or environmental impact.
We work closely with industry professionals from food, waste and energy, to source, develop and nurture start-up and scale-up businesses with significant commercial potential. Although it is vital for the companies within the Earthworm community to make a return for our investors, it is equally important that they are ethically-driven and they contribute to the circular economy.
About Vertical Future
Vertical Future is a food tech company focused on improving population health by building a smarter, more sustainable food production and supply system. We develop technologies and build smart, high-tech production sites, primarily in urban centers, as well as growing a broad range of high-quality produce (primarily baby leaf salads, microherbs, and specialist herbs), traded under the brand name MiniCrops. With multiple production sites across London in the coming year and an ambitious research and development program, we intend to become a market leader in the controlled environment agriculture space. Our vision is to change the way that people see, understand, and consume food.