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Joe Montana's fund backs a start-up helping greenhouses grow more with fewer workers

  • A start-up called Iunu is helping greenhouse growers use computer vision to produce more food and flowers with fewer resources.
  • Joe Montana's venture fund, Liquid 2 Ventures, is among the investors pouring $6 million into the agriculture-tech startup.

Retailers are selling more flowers, fruit and other produce than ever before. Now, a start-up called Iunu is helping greenhouse growers fulfill that demand by using computer vision, the same technology found in self-driving cars or used in facial recognition.

Seattle-based Iunu has been quietly operating in the agriculture industry since it was founded in 2013 and has 25 full-time employees

On Tuesday, the start-up made its first product, Luna, widely available, according to CEO Adam Greenberg. An SEC filing published Tuesday revealed the company has raised $6.1 million in a first round of venture funding from a bunch of investors, including Liquid 2 Ventures, a fund started by NFL athlete Joe Montana.

The Luna system includes internet-connected cameras and sensors that are mounted to tracks and travel like model trains throughout giant greenhouses. These systems keep a watch on plants, collecting and analyzing millions of data points and notifying farmers wherever a potential problem is indicated.

Indicators could be subtle changes in a plant's color or growth rate that correlate with the presence of a pest or emergence of a disease, or visual indicators that plants are getting the wrong amounts of water or sunlight

Greenberg, a former Amazon financial analyst, said he was motivated to start Iunu in part by his father, a botanist and entrepreneur who worked with orchids for most of his life.

Unlike indoor "vertical farms," commercial greenhouses take advantage of natural sunlight and can contains hundreds of species of plants in each facility, not just a few types of leafy greens. The largest greenhouses contain millions of square feet of plants, especially flowers, succulents, leafy greens, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Getting to know growers through the years, Greenberg recognized that the success of a given greenhouse relied heavily on visual observations made by farmers. Yet, he also realized, talent wasn't flocking to the farming industry anymore. There's actually a major hiring shortage in agriculture these days. But food and plant demand is growing, not waning.

So Greenberg and Iunu execs including CTO Matt King (formerly a consultant to Boeing and Intel) set out to design systems that could automate some of the visual tasks that farmers do, letting them spend less time looking for problems and more time solving them.

Greenberg said, "This kind of technology can make greenhouses as data-driven and efficient as factories." His long-term goal is to empower growers to produce just the amount of food and flowers that retailers order up, and never waste a single plant.

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