Singapore tends to have a knack for next-gen technology, and the flavour in season is agtech.
For now, most of the country’s efforts tend to revolve around planting vegetables and herbs on high-rise rooftops. Time to time, you’ll come across urban farming projects aiming to foster some sense of community between environmentally-conscious city folks who are sick and tired of the nation’s relentless consumption of plastic bags.
If everyone would just gather round to buy lots of locally grown produce, urban farmers may stand a better chance of standing on their own two feet. Last April, a local vertical farming company announced Singapore’s first ever commercially grown strawberries. The public was thrilled.
That’s where it pretty much ends.
According to James Tan, managing partner of Quest Ventures, there are gaping holes in the food supply chain ripe for venture investments to solve and make more efficient.
Tan said: “After planting, where do they go? Do farmers plant at volume or not? We need to get the supply chain ready first. When it comes to sourcing, farmers may not be using healthy fertiliser, and are getting ripped off by all the middle men in-between, shipping from Ipoh all the way here. So why isn’t there an equivalent in China or in Singapore that does the same thing?”
Agtech also encompasses a lot more than vertical farming.
In an interview with DEALSTREETASIA, Sarai Kemp, VP of Business Development, Trendlines Agtech shared that Singapore has the potential to produce great startups in aquaculture and palm oil.
Nearly 60 per cent of aquaculture (farmed shrimps and fish) globally is farmed from the Asia Pacific. Over 80 per cent of the world’s palm oil output is from two countries alone – Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Aquaculture is the next available protein. You have beef where production and demand are going to increase, but it’s not sustainable because you use a lot of land and water. Aquaculture offers you more or less the same level of protein through more sustainable means,” said Kemp.
Trendlines hopes that its upcoming $40-million agtech fund will capture some of these opportunities. The deal flow has already caught the Israeli-headquartered company by surprise.
“I would say 5 to 10 startups have already approached us (for investment),” said Kemp. “That’s not bad, considering that we’ve not even started anything.”
Kemp added: “So far we’ve seen startups in areas like soil, seed solutions. We see a lot of biotech startups, as well as precision agri. Precision agri involves devices like sensors, AI, drone, robotics and AI but applied in agriculture. These are fields that Singapore is strong in.”
Nitza Kardish, VP of Trendlines Group, will relocate to Singapore from Israel to manage the new fund.
Trendlines’ Agrifood fund plans to hit its first close by April-end and begin operating in Q2 this year. A “prominent Singapore investment fund” has committed 25 per cent or up to $10 million to the kitty.
Trendlines declined to reveal the identity of the investor or verify if it was Temasek.
The fund will include participation from Enterprise Singapore and SEEDS Capital, which will see one-third of the fund invested in early-stage agtech startups in Southeast Asia. The remaining two-thirds will be invested in commercialisation-stage agtech startups in Israel and around the world.
Edited interview excerpts with Sarai Kemp, VP of Business Development, Trendlines Agtech