Entrepreneurship | July 22, 2017

Plenty of green for indoor farming, women media entrepreneurs, time traveling in South Africa…

The team at


Hello ImpactAlpha readers!

#Featured: The Brief Quiz №24

The Numbers issue. This week a vote was scheduled then postponed then canceled then scheduled then canceled then postponed…we think. Are you keeping count? We hope so, because this is the Numbers issue of The Brief Quiz, №24 to be exact.

Math-challenged? Take The Brief Quiz №24 and let Jérôme Tagger help boost your impact IQ.

The Brief Quiz №24 — The Numbers Issue

#Dealflow: Follow the Money

A $200 million raise for Plenty’s indoor farms. Indoor farming is a new darling for venture capital funds, with big recent raises for Bowery Farming, AeroFarms and others. Japan’s SoftBank led one of the biggest yet, a $200 million round for Bay Area-based Plenty, which recently acquired Bright Agrotech, a builder of indoor growing systems for small farmers. Vertical farming, a $2 billion industry last year, could grow to $13 billion by 2024, owing to low labor costs, lack of pesticides, high productivity and proximity to consumers. Plenty is based in a 52,000-square foot facility where, like other vertical farms, it grows leafy greens. It is expanding into fruits and vegetables, and to Japan, China, the Middle East and other parts of the U.S. Softbank made the investment from its $93 billion (yes, with a ‘b’) Vision Fund for technologies addressing “the biggest challenges and risks facing humanity today.” Softbank was joined by Bezos Expeditions, Innovation Endeavors, Chinese venture capital firm DCM and others.

SJF Ventures leads $10 million funding for TemperPack’s eco-packaging. The Richmond, Va., startup produces insulated, recyclable packaging products used by more than 40 companies, including in the booming meal-kit and food delivery categories. Durham-based SJF Ventures led the $10 million round and was joined by Interplay Ventures, Third Prime Capital and Dolik Ventures. The company is “purpose-built to compete effectively against the existing, uninspiring insulation solutions,” says SJF Ventures’ Cody Nystrom, who will join the board. The company has recycled more than five million pounds of plant fiber, and expects to divert more than 10 million pounds of material from landfills.

LiveStories raises $10 million to democratize civic data. Call it a “fake news” counter-movement. A raft of content and visualization startups are trying to make data more accessible and prominent in storytelling. Seattle-based LiveStories, launched in 2013, has raised $10 million to give public employees “drag and drop” data capabilities. “It gives the power to non-technical people who might be in communication or just general staff,” founder Adnan Mahmud says. Data visualization resource Graffiti was just selected forseed funding from Matter Ventures, while public-records search database Vigilant was seeded by New Media Ventures. LiveStories has more than 100 customers, mostly in the public sector. Ignition Partners, True Ventures, and Founders Co-Op backed the round.

See all of ImpactAlpha’s recent #dealflow.

#Signals: Ahead of the Curve

Women-led digital media startups in Latin America: checking corruption and changing the narrative. An increasing number of women in Latin America are starting digital media businesses and producing some of the region’s best journalism. Authors of a new study of the impact of digital media startups in Latin America were shocked by their own finding: women were involved in starting 62% of the 100 sites surveyed in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. Of 600 digital-native media companies across the Spanish-speaking world, 40% of all founders were women. “The significance of this is hard to overstate,” write the authors of the study, which was backed by the Omidyar Network. They “are not just producing news — they are generators of change, promoting better laws, defending human rights, exposing corruption, and fighting abuses of power.” Chicas Poderosas is launching a new accelerator to support women-led digital media startups across Latin America. Read “Checking corruption and changing the narrative in Latin America,” by Dennis Price on ImpactAlpha.

Women-led digital media startups: Checking corruption and changing the narrative in Latin America

#2030: Long-Termism

A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030. Frans Cronje’s new book sounds like it belongs in the Douglas Adams section of your bookshelf. But the collection of realistic what-if scenarios from the scenario planner and CEO of the 90-year-old South African Institute of Race Relations is a useful roadmap for anybody seeking to navigate South Africa’s economic and political risks. A Time Traveller’s Guide to South Africa in 2030 takes us 13 years into the future, a year after the country’s 2029 election. Cronje’s four possible paths may ruffle some ideological feathers, but the prescience of his 2014 book makes them worth considering.

In The Rise of the Right, an authoritarian state forces “pragmatic” economic policies that lead to a stable and increasingly prosperous country with positive economic reverberations across the continent. In The Tyranny of the Left, an authoritarian state expropriates wealth, suppresses political dissent and tramples property rights. The Break-Up posits a stalling economy in which the country splinters along lines of race and class and citizens drift into enclaves. The more prosperous enclaves become de-facto private countries; the poor fall under the control of tribal leaders.

The most optimal outcome is The Rise of the Rainbow, in which the ruling and opposition parties enter into a coalition and allow the private sector to take the lead in returning economic growth. Unemployment rates fall, living standards increase, and South Africa emerges as a free, open, stable, and prosperous society.

Cronje’s 2014 book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Our Next Ten Years, published in 2014, laid out the four roads for South Africa following the reelection of President Jacob Zuma. One scenario, The Toll Road, suggested that the government, hamstrung by infighting and volatile coalition politics, would fail to introduce economic reforms. Support for the ANC would fall in major urban areas. But democracy would persist despite large-scale protests. That has largely come true, perhaps lending credence to Cronje’s new crystal-ball forecasting. “Good scenarios give decision makers sufficient advance warning of unanticipated political and economic shifts,” Cronje says, and “to introduce responses that capitalize on positive future events and navigate effectively around negative ones.”

That’s a wrap. Have a great weekend! Please send any news and comments to [email protected].