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AgTech attracts global billionaires’ investment

Korean startup n.thing to build vertical smart farming containers in UAE

By Oct 25, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

A researcher at South Korea’s AgTech startup n.thing manages temperature and humidity in a vertical farm with an IT device. (Courtesy of n.thing)
A researcher at South Korea’s AgTech startup n.thing manages temperature and humidity in a vertical farm with an IT device. (Courtesy of n.thing)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Softbank Group founder Masayoshi Son have recently shown a common interest in a surprising industry – agriculture. Business leaders across the globe have been making investments in agriculture since the sector, which has been behind the curve in terms of technology, has emerged as a promising industry with growth potential. In South Korea, agricultural technology (AgTech) startups are leading innovation in the sector.

Investment in startups related to agriculture and food businesses more than tripled to $31 billion last year from $9 billion in 2016, according to AgFunder, a food-tech and AgTech venture capital firm on Oct. 24.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the investment arm of Breakthrough Energy, founded by Gates, invested about $50 million in Iron Ox, a startup developing eco-friendly agricultural robots. Softbank also invested $200 million in indoor vertical farming company Plenty Unlimited.

Investment in the global AgTech industry
Unit: billion dollars

Source: AgFunder

Graphics by Jerry Lee

AgTech is an industry that raises agricultural productivity and improves product quality with advanced technology. The sector includes the entire process of agri-food production from cultivation, harvest, processing and distribution.

The industry has been in the spotlight recently as the supply of agricultural products declined due to the global logistics crisis and poor crop conditions caused by climate abnomalities. The aging of agricultural manpower and the lack of labor in the agricultural industry has further ramped up the importance of AgTech.


South Korea’s AgTech sector is still in its infancy. It remains hard to apply economies of scale and force aging farmers to use advanced technology. The local agriculture industry has been relying on the government’s financial support, while production and distribution have been led by NongHyup, an independent cooperative federation for farmers.

A domestic venture capital firm is actively nurturing AgTech business in the country. Sopoong Ventures is investing more than a quarter of its assets in startups related to agri-food businesses. The firm is also operating an accelerated program for those startups along with the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Foundation of Agri. Tech. Commercialization & Transfer.

“Agri-food is linked to so many areas. Innovation at any single sector in the long value chain will have an enormous impact on mankind,” said Sopoong CEO Han Sang-yeop.

Among AgTech businesses, vertical farming is regarded as the segment with the most growth potential. Vertical farming is the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked indoor layers with artificially controlled light, temperature and humidity. The farming, which is not affected by climate and season, has a high level of productivity with strong resistance to pests.

In South Korea, n.thing Inc. and NextOn are leading startups in the vertical farming business. In May, n.thing signed a $3 million deal with Sarya Holdings of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to build vertical smart farming containers there.

NextOn grows crops based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology in smart farms converted from abandoned tunnels.

Write to Jong-Kwan Park at

Jongwoo Cheon edited this article.

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