48. Apeel Sciences

Avocados that last longer

Founders: James Rogers (CEO), Louis Perez, Jenny Du
Launched: 2012
Headquarters: Goleta, California
$110 million
Valuation: $420 million (PitchBook)
Key technologies:
Nanotechnology, materials science
Agriculture, food harvesting

George Kavallines | CNBC

Apeel Sciences was launched in 2012 to put a dent in the $2.6 trillion worth of food that spoils and is wasted each year. The Goleta, California-based company has developed an edible substance that when applied to the outside of harvested fruits and vegetables, creates an invisible shield that can double their lifespan without refrigeration. This, the company says, greatly reduces food waste and helps preserve natural resources. That's especially important when it's estimated that the number of mouths to feed on Earth will reach 9.7 billion by 2050.

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Now, for the first time, the company's produce is available in stores. In June, Apeel-treated avocados were introduced in Costco and Harps grocery stores across the U.S. And in September the company partnered with Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the country, to sell its longer-lasting avocados. It makes sense, Apeel says, to start with avocados since they ripen so quickly, and that U.S. produced 2.4 billion pounds of the fruit last year. Next up: lemons, limes and asparagus, perhaps later this year.

Founder and CEO James Rogers has a background in material engineering and, as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon, studied the effects of water and oxygen on steel. When later on he began doing work at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he would drive past rich harvesting fields and wonder if water and oxygen could affect the life of the produce being grown. The company's technology basically works like this: plant materials that are left behind on the farm (leaves and peels, for instance) are blended and then lipid molecules are extracted. The resulting powder is then turned into a liquid which is either sprayed on produce, or fruits and vegetables are dipped into the solution. The company's customers are farmers, growers, and retailers.

Apeel has raised $110 million in funding, including $70 million in August from a round led by Viking Global. Other investors are Andreessen Horowitz, Upfront Ventures, DBL Partners, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Last year, the company also added Walter Robb, co-founder and former CEO of Whole Foods Market, to its board.

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