Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator Selects Five Early-Stage Sustainable Indoor Agriculture Companies

The program’s ninth cohort will receive non-dilutive funding for research and development at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

ST. LOUIS, MO – October 7, 2021 -- Global food demand is anticipated to grow by 60 percent within the next 30 years. To meet the demand sustainably, the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN²), a technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation and co-administered by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), today announced that it has selected five new startups to participate in the program. The ninth IN² cohort is developing technologies to help make indoor agriculture more sustainable.

“Indoor agriculture provides several environmental and operational benefits, but these processes typically produce more greenhouse gas emissions than field-grown systems,” said Trish Cozart, Iprogram manager at NREL. “It’s critical to make indoor agriculture more sustainable, as land degradation and water shortages threaten the agriculture industry’s ability to feed a growing population. The companies in IN²’s ninth cohort are addressing this problem through innovative technologies.”

The selected companies will receive up to $250,000 in non-dilutive funding from Wells Fargo and will conduct research and development activities at NREL and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis, Missouri, a program partner and the world’s largest independent plant science research institute. They will also join a cleantech ecosystem that includes industry experts, investors, technology bankers, demonstration partners, and a nationwide Channel Partner network of more than 60 cleantech and agtech business incubators, accelerators, and university programs.

With the addition of these five companies, IN²’s total portfolio now includes 56 startups. Since joining the IN² program, portfolio companies have raised $1.1 billion in external follow-on funding — equivalent to an average of more than $95 for every $1 awarded by Wells Fargo through IN².

“This year, IN² is focused on validating technologies that address key challenges in the indoor agriculture industry, including environmentally and financially sustainable ways to deliver light, control growth environments, evaluate environmental impacts and solve the need for crop varieties that are well-adapted for indoor environments,” said Claire Kinlaw, director of Innovation Commercialization at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

Originally nominated by program Channel Partners, the companies underwent in-depth review by Wells Fargo, NREL, IN², and Donald Danforth Plant Science Center’s expert industry advisory board. The selected startups are:

Atlas Sensor Technologies – El Paso, TX – IoT solutions for the water industry.  Monitoring water hardness in real-time with its ion exchange fiber-based technology, to reduce cost and waste while improving how water softeners operate. Danforth Center Principal Investigator Ivan Baxter, PhD,  will collaborate with Atlas Sensors to develop a nitrate sensor with possible uses in indoor and outdoor agriculture. This will help track nitrate through the system, enabling efforts to limit its use and waste. Atlas will produce sensor materials and NREL Principal Investigtor Lance Wheeler will perform materials characterization on sample nitrate sensors produced by Atlas.

GrowFlux – Philadelphia, PA – Intelligent horticulture lighting. Delivering an IoT platform that is compatible with major manufacturers, which enables an average of 20 to 30 percent energy savings. NREL Principal Investigtors Anya Petersen and Venkatesh Chinde  will assist with lighting optimization algorithm development and evaluation of various scenarios including pricing, season, and location for greenhouses.

Motorleaf – Montréal, Québec – Automated AI yield predictions. Specializing in the application of artificial intelligence for indoor agriculture to provide greenhouse growers and supply chain participants with information to optimize yield and reduce their carbon footprint. NREL Principal Investigators, Anya Petersen, Venkatesh Chinde will provide research support on inputs for the development of carbon footprint calculator.

New West Genetics – Fort Collins, CO – Genomics-assisted breeding for the hemp industry. Creating proprietary, stable, high-yielding breed varieties for sustainable hemp production, delivering a highly productive crop that can support food, feed, biomass and specialty products for an expanding population. Danforth Center Principal Investigator Chris Topp, PhD, will evaluate root architecture and rooting ability of a number of New West Genetics proprietary hemp varieties.  Growth will be assessed under greenhouse-controlled environments and cultivation systems.  This data will guide New West Genetics as they continue to develop high performing hemp varieties for indoor and outdoor growth.

SunPath – Louisville, CO – Fiber optic indoor lighting. Improving lighting efficiency through its patented fiber optics technology, which saves energy and increases crop yield and quality to make indoor agriculture more economically viable and environmentally sustainable. In this IN² project, Danforth Center Principal Investigator Ru Zhang PhD, will explore SunPath’s effect on plant growth including photosynthetic parameters, germination rates/harvest time, chloryophyll content, shape/size, to infer energy savings potential for indoor agriculture. Furthermore, SunPath hardware will log available daily sunlight during the project to enable an estimate of direct energy savings/sqft that SunPath’s technology can provide to greenhouse operations

“We need to accelerate technology innovation and invest in new ideas to improve food security and sustainability worldwide,” said Jenny Flores, head of Small Business Growth Philanthropy at Wells Fargo. “IN² is uniquely positioned to identify companies with promising new technologies that can reduce the environmental impact of indoor food production and provide startups with the resources required to get to market, faster.”

About the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN²)
The Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator (IN²) is a $50 million technology incubator and platform funded by the Wells Fargo Foundation. Co-administered by and housed at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, IN2’s mission is to speed the path to market for early-stage, clean-technology entrepreneurs. Launched in 2014 with an initial focus on supporting scalable solutions to reduce the energy impact of commercial buildings, IN² has since expanded its focus to advance technologies that address the sustainable production of agriculture and housing affordability. For more information, visit in2ecosystem.com.

About the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center
Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, education and outreach aim to have impact at the nexus of food security and the environment, and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center’s work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.

About Wells Fargo
Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE: WFC) is a leading financial services company that has approximately $1.9 trillion in assets and proudly serves one in three U.S. households and more than 10% of all middle market companies and small businesses in the U.S. We provide a diversified set of banking, investment and mortgage products and services, as well as consumer and commercial finance, through our four reportable operating segments: Consumer Banking and Lending, Commercial Banking, Corporate and Investment Banking, and Wealth & Investment Management. Wells Fargo ranked No. 30 on Fortune’s 2020 rankings of America’s largest corporations. In the communities we serve, the company focuses its social impact on building a sustainable, inclusive future for all by supporting housing affordability, small business growth, financial health and a low-carbon economy. News, insights and perspectives from Wells Fargo are also available at Wells Fargo Stories. Additional information may be found at www.wellsfargo.com | Twitter: @WellsFargo.


Media Contacts

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center: Karla Roeber, 314-406-4287, kroeber@danforthcenter.org

IN² Media, Liz Crumpacker, 646-494-7482, NREL@antennagroup.com

Wells Fargo Media, E.J. Bernacki, 415-823-3523, ejbernacki@wellsfargo.com